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Singtel chief says last year was one of the toughest in company’s history

Singapore’s incumbent operator this week gave an unvarnished appraisal of its performance during its recently-ended financial year.

However, its turnaround plan is already bearing fruit, with this week seeing progress on asset sales and new 5G offers coming to market.

“This has been one of the most challenging years Singtel has seen. The distresses of the pandemic exacerbated competitive pressures inherent in our industry, making this one of the toughest operating environments in recent times,” said Singtel CEO Yuen Kuan Moon and Chairman Lee Theng Kiat, in a letter to shareholders accompanying the telco’s annual report.

In late May, Singtel reported group net profit for the 12 months to 31 March plummeted to S$554 million ($411 million) from S$1.08 billion in the previous year. Revenue dropped 5.4 percent to S$15.6 billion.

“The pandemic and resultant travel restrictions crimped roaming revenue while heightened competition continued to exert pressure on our traditional value pools,” said Yuen and Lee on Wednesday. “Our digital businesses were also impacted. Economic tremors from the pandemic and rapid shifts in the digital marketing and cyber security industries dampened growth for Amobee and Trustwave.”

Singtel has already unveiled what it calls a strategic reset that will, if all goes according to plan, put the company back on the path to growth.

There are three strands to it: leveraging investments in 5G to create a platform for innovative services that will grow consumer and enterprise market share; turn its ICT unit NCS and local digital services brands into regional growth engines; and monetise infrastructure.

That last pillar of the plan is already well underway. Singtel is selling a 70 percent share of Australian Towers Network (ATN), the holding company that manages Australian unit Optus’ tower portfolio.

According to a report by The Australian, Singtel has drawn up a shortlist of suitors that will be invited to make second-round bids for the asset. Private equity firms, including Macquarie Infrastructure Real Assets (MIRA), AustralianSuper, Brookfield, and a consortium led by KKR are all understood to have made it to round two. Australian towers company Stilmark is also said to be on the shortlist. The sale, which is being managed by Bank of America (BoA), is expected to attract offers of up to A$2 billion.

In addition, Singtel seems to have made some small progress this week on the part of its reset that revolves around growing its 5G market share, by becoming the first operator in Singapore to offer 5G roaming. It is the first announcement of its kind since Singtel announced its strategic reset more than a month ago.

So far, 13 countries are on the list, including regional destinations Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. Further afield, Singtel customers can also roam onto partner 5G networks in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Greece, Switzerland and even Finland.

“We have launched 5G roaming in anticipation of overseas travel resuming as Singapore and more countries ramp up their COVID-19 vaccination programmes,” said Anna Yip CEO of Singtel’s domestic consumer unit, in a statement. “This will enable our customers to immediately roam abroad with a powerful 5G experience when the world opens up again.”

Singtel will also provide Singapore’s entire Olympic contingent with 5G roaming services when they head to Tokyo later this month. The athletes themselves will be given Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra smartphones too.

“We are pleased that our Team Singapore partner athletes heading to the Games in Japan this month will be the early users of our 5G roaming service. We hope that by staying connected with their loved ones and fans back home, they will be able to perform at their best,” Yip said.

Similarly Singtel will hope that being first to market with offers like 5G roaming will help it get back to performing at its best. It’s not the most earth-shattering initiative, but it’s a start.


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