Today sees the beginning of the end of the monopoly held by Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel), with a new mobile phone operator and three new competitors in the paging market making debuts. Hongkong Telecom and Hutchison Whampoa represent Hong Kong in this tribute to free trade. Hongkong Telecom and British parent Cable & Wireless (C&W) have teamed up with Singapore's Keppel Telecom and Singapore Press Holdings to try to prise open SingTel's hold on both the paging and cellular markets through a joint venture called MobileOne (M1) Hongkong Telecom and C&W each have a 15 per cent stake. Hutchison Whampoa holds 40 per cent of Hutchison IntraPage, which has a paging licence. Its local partners are Intraco and Teledata, each with 30 per cent. They will operate under the Hutchison Paging name, already well established in Hong Kong. The other newcomer in the paging market is ST Messaging, which will operate as SunPage. Although competition only begins formally today, the impact of liberalisation on SingTel already can be seen. In preparation for the onslaught, it has been busy reorganising services and repackaging some tariffs. Competition is expected to be fiercest in the paging market where some newcomers have pledged a price war, offering free services for up to five months, and other incentives. With penetration already at a world record 32 per cent of the population, analysts said scope for growth in the paging market could be thinner than in Singapore's mobile phone sector. 'We want to be aggressive to meet the masses,' Raphael Goh Kee Hong, Hutchison IntraPage chief executive, said. He said IntraPage would target youth with a bargain-bucket minimum services offer. The company believes 98 per cent of people who want pagers are looking for cheap prices and reliable basic services, rather than sophisticated extras. But, a full range of gimmicks will be available at competitive rates should anyone want them, ranging from secretarial services to messaging systems. Mr Goh expects the paging market to grow to 1.5 million subscribers in five years, from one million today. Some analysts are not so bullish. 'The paging market is already quite saturated,' said John Chessher, regional telecommunications analyst at Schroders in Singapore. Analysts see more potential for growth and money-making in the cellular market. Latest SingTel figures show there are about 400,000 mobile phone users in Singapore, representing about 13 per cent of the country's three million population. That penetration is lower than in many other modern cities and is surprising, given Singapore's emphasis on hi-tech. Hong Kong has a penetration of about 19 per cent. Adam Quinton, head of Asia telecoms research at Merrill Lynch, says that by the end of 2000, the overall market for mobile phones in Singapore will be over one million subscribers, suggesting scope for growth for both SingTel and M1, its new competitor. M1 forecasts the mobile market will grow 30 per cent by 2000. 'We expect to garner a fair share of this market,' M1 spokesman Janet Loh said. Mr Quinton said the Singapore mobile phone industry was at a sufficiently early stage for a newcomer to take a share of the growth, rather than have to steal SingTel's customers. He forecast M1 would capture 40 per cent of the growth, helping build its subscriber base to 275,000 by the end of 2000, or 25 per cent of the total market. Schroders is more conservative, forecasting 15 per cent market share by 2000. The impact of the newcomers is likely to be faster than was seen when liberalisation first took hold in Hong Kong. The Telecommunications Authority of Singapore (TAS) has allowed the new entrants in both sectors to build networks in advance of their public launch. All have systems in place to connect users just about anywhere in Singapore, unlike in Hong Kong and in Britain where new mobile operators had to gradually expand coverage by their networks after launch, making their services less attractive initially than the incumbent's. M1 has been offering free mobile phone services to 15,000 people on trial in recent weeks, while ST Messaging says it has 5,000 people trying out its paging service. M1 says it is investing S$360 million (about HK$1.92 billion) on building its mobile and paging network, half of which it has already spent. It will offer both GSM and newer CDMA systems. 'We intend to provide top quality, value and best-in-class customer service,' said Ms Loh. M1 would match market expectations rather than start a price war. On the paging front, M1 says competition will be stiff but believes there will be room for growth, forecasting penetration could climb slowly but was unlikely to breach 40 per cent of the population in five years. Hutch IntraPage is reported to have spent $11 million developing its island-wide paging service. The new paging players are expected by analysts to have to eat into SingTel Paging's existing client base to be a success. The rivals already have strong advertising campaigns underway. Mr Goh said Hutch Paging aimed to attract 200,000 subscribers within three years and 400,000 subscribers in five years. He expected it would have to target SingTel's subscriber base for 30 per cent of its customers. This would mean stealing 60,000 customers from SingTel over about three years. Mr Goh said a special offer package for customers would be announced today. Hutch Paging's basic numeric paging package will cost $9.90 a month, compared to SingTel's $15. It is offering to pay SingTel subscribers $24 each as a subsidy to switch. To facilitate competition, TAS has said both mobile phone and pager users who switch operators may keep their numbers. Those who do so will have to pay $8-$10 a month for call-forwarding, though most operators are expected to absorb these charges for the first few months. SingTel has said it was not worried by the prospect of competition and expected to gain additional mobile phone and paging customers as markets grew. SingTel has enjoyed a full monopoly of services since privatisation in 1992. 'You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see competition is going to affect SingTel's bottom line,' Mr Chessher said. Most analysts expect it to report a 13 per cent rise in net profits to about $1.68 billion for its fiscal year ending yesterday, but say competition could cut growth to 11 per cent next year. They say the mobile phone market is worth at least $800 million a year and accounts for about 17 per cent of SingTel's revenue. Having said that, SingTel should receive a cheque today for $1.5 billion to compensate it for relinquishing its monopoly ahead of 2007, as contracted. Singapore plans further liberalisation, including additional fixed-line and mobile operators by about April 2000.