No 4th Mobile Operator

No new 4th mobile operator. The IDA (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore) has allocated Singapore’s remaining 3G cellular network spectrum (1900 – 2100 MHz) to SingTel, StarHub and M1 for S$60m, or at the reserve price of S$20m each; this after its plan to auction off that spectrum rights did not draw any other bids besides the three incumbents. We note that it was a repeat of an earlier 3G spectrum auction in 2001 where there were only bids from the three telcos. As a result, the telcos each paid the reserve price of S$100m for their 3G licenses then.

Already a saturated market. We were not surprised by the lack of interest, given that the mobile market here is already very saturated, with a penetration of 143% (Jul 2010). Additionally, we note that the three incumbents have already very well entrenched market shares, led by SingTel (~46%), StarHub (28%) and M1 (26%). As such, it would be a very uphill and expensive task for a newcomer to make a meaningful and profitable impact on the market, especially if margins are likely to be further eroded by an ensuing price competition. Having said that, we still expect mobile penetration to increase, where the proliferation of mobile computing devices such as the Apple iPad 3G will continue to drive mobile data demand.

Additional bandwidth much welcome. Hence the allocation of the additional spectrum is welcome news as the telcos will be able to expand their cellular bandwidth, thus allowing them to cope with the expected rapid growth in mobile broadband demand in the coming years. According to IT research firm Analysys Mason, it expects the total number of mobile broadband connections in developed Asia-Pacific region to increase from 6.2m in 2009 to 27.2m in 2015 (28% CAGR); it also expects mobile broadband revenue to jump 3x from US$2.4b in 2009 to US$7.1b in 2015.

Maintain OVERWEIGHT. The Singapore stock market has generally done very well over the past quarter, with the STI up 9.2% QoQ; however, further upside from here may be limited as there are questions still unanswered like the pace of the US economic recovery, the credit situation in Europe etc. As such, we maintain our OVERWEIGHT call on the telcos for their attractive dividend yields while their defensive earnings should also limit any downside risk in terms of renewed economic slowdown.

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