Singapore Telcos Rolling Out 'Early' Version of 5G: Here Are Three Affordable 5G Phones Under $550 to Consider
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Singapore Telcos Rolling Out 'Early' Version of 5G: Here Are Three Affordable 5G Phones Under $550 to Consider

profileJoel Koh
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The age of 5G is upon us. But, we are not quite there yet.

xiaomi 5G Phone
Source: Shiwa | Unsplash

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has said that Singapore is on track to roll out nationwide 5G coverage and deploy two true standalone (SA) 5G networks by 2025.

And by end 2022,  the telcos will be required to provide coverage for at least half of Singapore.

Previously, Singtel and the StarHubM1 joint venture were awarded 5G licences issued IMDA in June 2020.


However, we are still four-plus years away from the full implementation of the 5G SA networks.

This is a strange situation to be in as there have been quite a few Android 5G phones available in Singapore and Apple also rumoured to launch a 5G iPhone later this year.

In the meantime, Singapore’s network operators (MNOs) like Singtel, Starhub and M1 have started deploying 5G networks that ride on existing 4G infrastructure, otherwise known as 5G non-standalone (NSA) networks.

The main benefit for 5G NSA will be quicker mobile speeds.

Starhub and Singtel have both launched trials of the NSA network technology for some of its customers, while M1 has taken a different approach; opening up this 5G NSA to all its customers without any limitation on the number of sign-ups or restrictions on any plans.

An important thing to note is that this 5G NSA is live and is already implemented in cities in China, South Korea and the United States.

So here’s the million-dollar question.

Should you be buying a 5G phone in Singapore? Here is what you need to know!

Note: Information is accurate at the time of writing (29 September 2020).


TL;DR: Singapore Telcos Rolling Out Earlier Version of 5G: Here Are Three 5G Phones Under $500 to Consider

PhoneXiaomi Redmi 10x 5GHuawei Nova 7 SE 5GOnePlus Nord 5G
Price$359$468$539
ProcessorMediaTek Dimensity 820 5G (7 nm)Kirin 820 5G (7nm)Snapdragon 765G (7nm)
Display6.57 inches (~401 ppi density)6.5 inches (~405 ppi density)6.44 inches (~408 ppi density)
Battery Size4520 mAh4000 mAh4115 mAh
Ram + Storage (Starting From)6GB + 64GB8GB + 128GB8GB + 128GB
MicroSD SupportmicroSDXCmicroSDXCNo
Main Cameras48 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide)
8 MP, f/2.2, 119˚ (ultrawide)
2 MP, f/2.4, (depth)
64 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide)
8 MP, f/2.4, 17mm (ultrawide)
2 MP, f/2.4, (macro)
2 MP, f/2.4, (depth)
48 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide)
8 MP, f/2.3 (ultrawide)
5 MP, f/2.4, (depth)
2 MP, f/2.4, (macro)
Front Cameras16 MP, f/2.3, (wide)16 MP, f/2.0, (wide) 32 MP, f/2.5, (wide)
8 MP, f/2.5, 105˚ (ultrawide)
3.5mm JackYesYesNo

What is 5G?

Before we begin, it is important for you to have an idea of what 5G is.

Imagine downloading the whole season of your favourite series from video streaming services in a matter of seconds versus a few minutes due to the superfast network speeds of 10-20 Gbps.

Imagine fast and reliable mobile speeds even in crowded areas. Or a mobile network with ultra-low latency and faster mobile speeds that can support virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications seamlessly.

This is the promise of 5G or the fifth-generation mobile network that is set to replace 4G as the new global wireless network.

If realised, 5G technology will deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, more stable networks, huge network capacity, widespread availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users.

For example, 5G is already being used by surgeons in China to perform surgery remotely from thousands of kilometres away.

doctor performs remote surgery using 5G
Source: South China Morning Post | YouTube

However, its rollout will still take time as the implementation of the true 5G SA networks is complex and costly.

In the meantime, telcos around the world have been implementing 5G NSA networks to give the public a partial taste of 5G.

Here are the differences between them.

5G Non-Standalone (NSA) Network vs 5G Standalone (SA) Network

Currently, there are two main 5G standards-based paths: the SA standard and the NSA standard.

5G SA is the true 5G network, as this network has purpose-built 5G facilities to provide huge speed improvements and ultra-low network latency. The 5G SA network is also completely separate from the 4G network.

FYI: Network latency is defined as the time taken for data or a request to go from the source to the recipient. Latency in networks is measured in milliseconds. The closer your latency is to zero.
For consumers, latency is experienced as delay, which is experienced most jarringly with online multiplayer games – the lower the latency, the quicker the internet responds to your inputs.

In contrast, 5G NSA piggybacks on existing 4G network facilities to supply higher speeds and data bandwidth. A 5G-enabled smartphone connected to this network will connect to the 5G or 4G network depending on the surroundings

Also, 5G uses 5G NR (New Radio), a new radio access technology (RAT) developed by 3GPP for the 5G mobile network.

5G NSA vs 5G SA
Source: Oppo Singapore

To use a more familiar analogy, let’s take a look at the Yuan Yang drink.

The 5G NSA network is just like Yuan Yang, with the milk tea representing the 4G network and the coffee representing the 5G network.

Even though tea leaves contain more caffeine, the coffee brewing process uses hotter water, which extracts more of the caffeine from the beans. This means that an equal volume of brewed coffee generally has more caffeine than a cup of tea.

The mix of the 5G network (coffee) and 4G network (tea) in the 5G NSA network is what delivers the faster mobile speeds.

But ideally, if you want a potent caffeine (5G) fix, you will need to have a true 5G SA network (coffee), which will deliver faster mobile speeds and ultra-low latency.

What Are the Advantages of 5g NSA and SA Networks?

Ideally, you will want to deploy true 5G SA networks as with new core network equipment that can supply a speedy and flexible network with ultra-low latency that will bring costs down.

However, the 5G NSA network is easier for MNOs to deploy, as it can piggyback on current 4G network facilities.

With these upgrades, the 5G NSA network will be able to deliver faster mobile speed with lower latency. For example, Singtel demonstrated that this network will be able to deliver mobile speeds of up to 1Gbps and latency as low as 8 milliseconds.

Although the demonstrations were conducted in almost perfect conditions and may not be as good in real life; they still demonstrate a clear improvement over the existing 4G network which delivers speeds of about 400Mbps and network latency of above 10ms.

That is a clear improvement.

Starhub, Singtel and M1’s Rollout of NSA 5G

At the time of writing, Starhub and Singtel have rolled out trials for services of 5G NSA to some of their customers.

M1 has chosen a different approach, offering all of its customers’ access to 5G NSA via 5G booster packs which can be added to their existing mobile plans.

Starhub 5G Network

Starhub was the first to launch early-stage 5G NSA services, launching its 5G trials on 18 August.


This trial which will last for half a year is available to Starhub customers who have signed StarHub’s three Mobile+ plans and own a 5G-enabled phone that supports 5G NSA.

For now, the areas covered by the trial include the Central Business District as well as residential hubs like Jurong East, Tampines and Woodlands.

According to HardwareZone tests, Starhub’s new 5G trial network reported speeds of 150 to 180Mbps in parts of Singapore. In some parts, the reporter enjoyed super-fast speeds nearing 300Mbps.

Latency was also much improved as with 4G networks, you’re looking at an average latency of around 30ms according to OpenSignal.

In contrast, with the Starhub trial 5G network, latency went as low as 16ms; a clear improvement.

Currently, the trial is available to Starhub customers with the following 5G phones:

  • Huwaei P40 Pro 5G.
  • Huawei P40 Pro+ 5G.
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G.
  • Samsung Note20 5G.
  • Samsung Note20 Ultra 5G.
  • Users of OPPO Find X2 Pro 5G can look forward to receiving 5G software updates from OPPO progressively from end October.
  • With more to come.

StarHub continues to work closely with a variety of phone manufacturers to make available more 5G capable models for customers

Singtel 5G Network

Two weeks later, Singtel launched its three-month-long 5G NSA trial on 1 September.

Singtel made the trial available to the first 20,000 Combo/XO plans’ customers with 5G-compatible smartphones; with the 5G network covering some areas in the central and southern parts of Singapore.

During the trial period, coverage will be further extended.

Once the 20,000 users quota has been filled, other users can sign up for the trial for S$10/month.

If you are part of the 20,000 users, you will have to pay for the same S$10/month package if you want to continue with 5G on Singtel’s network after the trial.

According to HardwareZone tests, Singtel’s new 5G trial network reported speeds of about 50 to 450Mbps in parts of Singapore. In some parts, the reporter enjoyed super-fast speeds nearing 900Mbps.

Latency was also much improved as with 4G networks, you’re looking at an average latency of around 30ms according to OpenSignal.

In contrast, with the Starhub trial 5G network, latency went as low as 5ms; a clear improvement.

However, coverage was limited, with the network only covering the Central and Southern parts of Singapore.

Currently, the trial is available to Singtel customers with the following 5G phones:

  • Huwaei P40 Pro 5G.
  • Huawei P40 Pro+ 5G.
  • Vivo X50 Pro.
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra.
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20 (5G version).
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra,
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2.
  • With more to come.

M1 5G Network

Not to be outdone, M1 rolled out its 5G NSA network for the public on 25 September.

Unlike Starhub or Singtel, M1 is making its 5G network available to all M1 mobile plan customers regardless of plan type.

All you have to do is to add a 5G Booster Pack, which cost ranges from S$15 for 25GB, to S$40 for 100GB.

M1 has stated that its 5G NSA network is already up and running covering the Central Business District (CBD), Orchard Road, Suntec City, and Marina Bay.

In the following months, M1 will extend the service to other parts of Singapore, including ‘key town centres’ by the end of 2020.

Currently, the 5G Booster Pack is available to M1 customers with the following 5G phones:

  • Huwaei P40 Pro 5G.
  • Huawei P40 Pro+ 5G.
  • Samsung Note20 5G.
  • Samsung Note20 Ultra 5G
  • With more to come.

Should You Get a 5G Phone That Supports NSA and SA?

In its current state, I would not recommend that you go out and buy a 5G phone to try out 5G, as the trials are only offering limited coverage around Singapore,

You will also have to pay a premium on your plans for 5G with M1 and Singtel when the trial expires.

Aside from the faster network speeds and lower latency, you can do everything on the 5G NSA network with Wifi.

Also, the breakthrough applications for 5G like for augmented reality or seamless cloud gaming are still years away from being widely adopted.

Not to mention that you will have to be a guinea pig for the new network. This is because the telcos will still have to expand their coverage, and will have to upgrade to the true 5G networks from next year onwards as mandated by IMDA.

guinea pig swimming
Source: Giphy

However, if you need to change your phone for whatever reason, it is good for you to get a phone that supports 5G NSA and 5G SA.

Buying a 5G phone that supports both 5G networks will future-proof your phone for the next few years.

You will have the choice to tap onto the interim 5G NSA networks being launched this year, and use the 5G SA network when it rolls out fully in 2025.

Currently, the telcos are only supporting the expensive flagship phones like the Huawei P40 series and Samsung Galaxy Note series.

But, I would think that is likely that the telcos will expand the range of supported 5G phones down the road to capture more customers.

Also, you need not get an expensive flagship phone if you want 5G. There are a couple of more affordable options that have the hardware to support the 5G NSA and 5G SA networks as well.

On paper, these phones should be able to work with the 5G NSA networks as these phones support the n1 (2100) and n78 (3500) bands.

According to RCRWireless News, Starhub and M1 use the 2100 MHz/n1 spectrum for their NSA networks.

Whereas for Singtel, its 5G trial uses the 3.5 GHz/n78 spectrum as well as existing 2100 MHz/n1 spectrum for its NSA network.

However, a software update may be required for the phones before it can tap onto the 5G NSA network.

In the future, the three telcos will be launching 5G SA networks that will run on the 3.5 (n78) GHz spectrum. This means that these phones on paper are also covered for the 5G SA networks.

But to confirm, do check with your respective telcos.

As such, here is a list of 5G phones under $550 in Singapore from the more reputable brands for you to consider.

5G Phones Under $550 in Singapore

Xiaomi Redmi 10x 5G (6GB Ram + 64GB Storage): $359

Huawei Nova 7 SE 5G (8GB Ram + 128GB Storage): $468

OnePlus Nord 5G (8GB Ram + 128GB Storage): $539

PhoneXiaomi Redmi 10x 5GHuawei Nova 7 SE 5GOnePlus Nord 5G
Price$359$468$539
ProcessorMediaTek Dimensity 820 5G (7 nm)Kirin 820 5G (7nm)Snapdragon 765G (7nm)
Display6.57 inches (~401 ppi density)6.5 inches (~405 ppi density)6.44 inches (~408 ppi density)
Battery Size4520 mAh4000 mAh4115 mAh
Ram + Storage (Starting From)6GB + 64GB8GB + 128GB8GB + 128GB
MicroSD SupportmicroSDXCmicroSDXCNo
Main Cameras48 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide)
8 MP, f/2.2, 119˚ (ultrawide)
2 MP, f/2.4, (depth)
64 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide)
8 MP, f/2.4, 17mm (ultrawide)
2 MP, f/2.4, (macro)
2 MP, f/2.4, (depth)
48 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide)
8 MP, f/2.3 (ultrawide)
5 MP, f/2.4, (depth)
2 MP, f/2.4, (macro)
Front Cameras16 MP, f/2.3, (wide)16 MP, f/2.0, (wide) 32 MP, f/2.5, (wide)
8 MP, f/2.5, 105˚ (ultrawide)
3.5mm JackYesYesNo

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About Joel Koh
History student turned writer at Seedly. Before you ask, not a teacher. My time as a history student has equipped me with the skills to evaluate the impact societal development has on financial and nonfinancial events.
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