Pressure is on to raise funds ahead of 4G airwave bid

An airwave auction to determine Singapore's fourth mobile operator is slated to take place in early October, according to final auction rules published by the authorities.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) has set Sept 1 as the date for potential new entrants to submit their application forms, including documents to show they have enough funds.

This means the two candidates which have announced their interest, OMGTel and MyRepublic, have less than two months left to secure the funding they need, amid capital market uncertainties.

If all goes well, the auction will take place as scheduled, and the fourth telco could be rolling out its services as early as April next year.

But even as OMGTel gears up to make a bid, it is in the middle of a management transition.

The Straits Times learnt that chief executive officer Bill Amelio has left, just four months into his appointment.

OMGTel confirmed Mr Amelio left two weeks ago to be the chief executive officer of a company in the United States though he remained on the board. His replacement, Mr Michael DeNoma, joined this week.

Mr DeNoma was formerly chief executive officer of GuocoLeisure, a Singapore-based holding company of a global hospitality group.

The subsidiary of locally-based Consistel, which set up the Sports Hub's wireless systems, declined to reveal if it has the $400 million it said it was "close to" securing four months ago.

It noted it has "sufficient" funds to take part in the upcoming auction.

The company hopes to raise a total of $1 billion to build a brand new 4G network islandwide.

Fibre broadband operator MyRepublic also said it is still in the running, adding it has secured half the $250 million it needs to build its islandwide 4G network.

Its financial backers include Brunei's largest telco DST Communications and Sunshine Network, the telecommunications arm of Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas.

IDA wants to attract a fourth player here to spur competition in the sector. But analysts are unsure if an auction would eventually take place, citing the tight deadline to raise funds and a weak capital market after the Brexit vote in Britain.

Mr Ramakrishna Maruvada, telecoms researcher from Daiwa Capital Markets, said: "Potential new mobile entrants face significant barriers, chiefly financing."

He added that existing investors - driven by thirst for yields with Brexit looming - would also want to focus on less risky investments such as companies expanding their existing businesses instead of those launching new ventures.

"As such, we believe that the Singapore mobile market will not see a fourth player," he said.

UOB Kay Hian director of research Jonathan Koh said he expects "uncertainties and news flow to intensify" closer to the deadline.

This article was first published on July 16, 2016.
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