Singapore tech should have much to expect in 2017

Its economic outlook isn't looking great for the new year, but Singapore's tech landscape can offer some excitement with anticipated telco competition, learnings from smart nation pilots, and further development in autonomous driving.

This year has been tough-going in more ways than one and, by most accounts, Singapore's economy is expected to be heading for rougher seas in 2017.

According to a survey by the Singapore Business Federation, 63 percent of local companies said the economic climate worsened in 2016 and 48 percent believed the downward spiral would continue in the new year.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore also warned that the bleak economic landscape was not expected to clear up next year, which would see trade-related sectors continue to struggle and demands. External demand also would continue to be uneven across the country's key export markets, the central bank said.

The tech industry, however, could provide some light amid the economic overcast.

The telecommunications market, for one, should see increased excitement following the entrant of a new player, TPG Telecom, which earlier this month secured the country's fourth telco license. Its winning bid was somewhat of a surprise, considering the Australian telco beat out local competitor, MyRepublic.

While TPG isn't expected to begin delivering services to customers until 2018, Singapore's three existing operators--M1, Singtel, and StarHub--will likely take advantage of the upcoming year to try and boost their competitive edge.

The carriers also will be scooping up new spectrum in the next phase of the auction, and this will enable them to boost their existing service offerings. Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said in a Facebook post following TPG's win: "Singapore now has a fourth telco... Consumers can look forward to more attractive price packages and innovative services."

Indeed, it will be interesting to see what the telcos can come up with, especially as new players such as mobile virtual network operator, Circles.Life, have come into the market with promises to offer more creative services. The startup, which rents its mobile network capacity from M1, says its customers have the flexibility to tailor their mobile plans to their specific usage.

TPG, no doubt, also will want to start building its brand in the local market, where it remains largely unfamiliar to most consumers. It still hasn't revealed much about its gameplay and should really be looking to do so soon, especially when it has a long way to catch up to its competitors.

Speeding ahead driverless

The new year should also see further developments in autonomous driving for Singapore, where several pilots had been launched including self-driving taxis and buses. The trials should offer deeper insights on user experience as well as routing and mapping for autonomous vehicles.

The self-driving bus trials, led by Singapore's Land Transport Authority and Nanyang Technological University, also would involve the use of two electric hybrid buses and as well as intelligent sensors on existing buses to improve traffic navigation.

With the country taking the lead in this field as one of the few worldwide to already have begun actual road trials, it now needs to continue driving this forward by tapping lessons from the tests to improve the technology. The ability to resolve safety issues, for one, may be the key to putting Singapore on the global map as a leader in this market.

Another area that can potentially expand the country's international standing is its smart nation initiatives. First introduced in mid-2014, the Singapore government has since rolled out numerous pilots involving data sensors and hetnet technologies.

Key learnings from some of these should be available in 2017 and will offer an interesting glimpse into the country's smart nation progress. It also should reveal gaps that need to be plugged as well as provide valuable lessons that local businesses can tap to improve their own operations and efficiencies.

What insights have the hundreds of data sensors deployed in Jurong Lake District churned out? And how have these been used to improve public services? What prototypes has the Sentosa pilot created and how will these be further deployed?

2017 may very well turn out to be a fascinating year of discovery for Singapore's tech industry.

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