NetLink Trust to hire subcontractors to roll out nationwide fibre network

Company introduces process to reduce waiting time for consumers switching fibre broadband providers
Published: 4:16 AM, April 27, 2015
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Singapore — NetLink Trust, the new entity rolling out the Republic’s nationwide fibre network, is hiring a new subcontractor — and maybe more — to handle work related to the network.

It is also introducing a process to make it faster for consumers to switch fibre broadband providers.

NetLink Trust acquired OpenNet in 2013 and, as part of an overhaul aimed at strengthening its expertise, appointed a chief financial officer for the first time earlier this month.

Analysts said appointing more subcontractors from the telco sector to help work on the fibre network could reduce bottlenecks, which NetLink Trust had been plagued by.

Last December, it was fined for the third time in two years for not being able to complete its orders, albeit on the back of an improved performance.

The move could also help it cope with new infrastructure demand in Singapore’s move to becoming a Smart Nation.

Ms Lim May-Ann, executive director of Asia Cloud Computing Association, said: “There will always be ongoing work and new buildings as well as the last stragglers still not connected to fibre.

“With the Smart Nation blitz, there may be new buildings and initiatives, and these will prepare us in gearing up for coming trends, such as the Internet of Things, which is part of Smart Nation. There are a lot of opportunities for growth ... then, we have a pool of vendors prepared to cope with these new needs.”

In 2013, the sale of OpenNet to NetLink Trust, which is owned by Singtel, was met with strong protest from six retail service providers in Singapore and a coalition of Asia-Pacific carriers, which argued that it would give Singtel 100 per cent indirect ownership of the Republic’s fibre network. Singtel is also a retail service provider.

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) had to intervene by imposing several conditions, which included having Singtel relinquish its role as key subcontractor to OpenNet and transfer its fibre assets to NetLink Trust.

A new contractor would thus have to be appointed.

Analysts said this helped address anti-competition concerns.

According to sources, M1 will be the first subcontractor to be appointed, and more would possibly be hired in the future.

When asked about the advantage of choosing M1 and details about its role, a NetLink Trust spokesman would only say that more details would be unveiled in due time.

Mr Foong King Yew, vice-president of IT research firm Gartner, said of M1’s likely appointment: “It helps the market perception that there is no preferential treatment, in terms of transparency.”

Previously, there was only one key subcontractor to install and activate the network: Singtel. OpenNet had previously turned down offers from telcos M1 and StarHub to help with the roll-out and, in 2012, it sued Singtel over disputes involving delays in roll-out.

NetLink Trust also told TODAY that it was introducing a process to reduce waiting time for consumers switching fibre broadband providers. Called the Fibre Takeover process, the pilot programme, which started last October and involves the IDA and retail service providers, aims to reduce waiting time from four weeks to under a week.

“Previously, when a customer switches service providers, the new Internet service provider (ISP) would place an order with NetLink Trust. As the service with the existing ISP is still active, NetLink Trust may have to lay a second fibre to the home. This takes a longer time, contributing to a significantly longer installation period,” said a spokesman.

According to NetLink Trust, the Fibre Takeover process is likely to be implemented permanently by this year.

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