Singapore commits resources to drive 5G, earmarks key verticals for adoption

Industry regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority has set aside S$40 million (US$29.53 million) to support research and development efforts and drive adoption of 5G, which include initiatives focused on key verticals such as urban mobility and maritime.

Singapore has unveiled several initiatives it hopes will spur innovation and adoption of 5G technology in the country, including a S$40 million (US$29.53 million) pot to build up the supporting ecosystem. Spearheaded by Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), these also will encompass focused efforts on six key verticals such as smart estates, urban mobility, and maritime, where the industry regulator says have been earmarked for their potential to showcase 5G use cases that can be championed globally. 

To be managed alongside the National Research Foundation, the $40 million set aside would be tapped to facilitate 5G technology trials for enterprise deployment, create new testbeds, and support research and development efforts in 5G, such as cybersecurity. These would be deployed, refined, and exported to other markets. 

Announcing the initiatives during his opening address Thursday at InnovFest Unbound, Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran said Singapore aimed to deal with technological disruption and the uncertainty brought about by technological advancements by driving digital transformation in its economy and helping businesses and citizens through the transition. 

5G, he said, was an important digital infrastructure to support this, as was the need to establish "progressive legislation" to improve trust and facilitate innovation. 

Iswaran said: "We cannot be content with merely building systems and networks.  A thriving 5G ecosystem requires an environment that is conducive to innovation in developing cutting edge use-cases, as well as open testbeds to enable ecosystem sharing and capability development."

In identifying the six technology clusters, which also included government and consumer applications, he said Singapore hoped to be at the forefront in exporting "impactful" use cases. Such plans included the establishment of a PIXEL 5G Lab in One-North, slated to be ready by first-half 2020, which would serve as a testbed for companies testing 5G pilots in a "supportive" regulatory environment such as in the areas of immersive media and electronic games. 

According to IMDA, a couple of industry projects already were underway, with two local telcos--M1 and Singtel--awarded a project with PSA to assess the use of 5G for the maritime industry and the Singapore port operator's connectivity to improve port operations efficiency. Trials would run at least 18 months would be conducted at the PSA Living Lab from next quarter. 

Another collaboration involving Singtel, JTC, and A*Star would see the integration of 5G and other technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), to help businesses develop next-generation manufacturing applications. These would be deployed at A*Star's Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre.

For instance, 5G and IoT could be tapped to more accurately track the locations of automated guide vehicles on a factory site, enabling businesses to better plan the deployment of such vehicles in their facilities for improved security and productivity, Singtel said. 5G also could power augmented reality applications to conduct remote and real-time equipment maintenance, the telco said.

Making cities smart, transactions faster

IMDA also awarded S$1.5 million (US$1.11 million) for eight projects to build up Singapore's "smart estates" ecosystem, where Ascendas-Singbridge and JTC would lead initiatives that included the use of 3D Digital Twin technology in which administrators could view, manage, and analyse different estate data flows from devices such as CCTVs and ventilation systems, via a single platform.

According to Iswaran, the other projects included smart parking and, unmanned retail restores. "Cities are where technology, businesses, and people intersect.  As cities become denser as a result of rapid urbanisation, there are opportunities--and indeed an obligation--to transform them for the better through technology, be it in building design and maintenance, urban mobility, or estate security," the minister said. 

IMDA also would work with Singapore's Housing Development Board and Frasers Property to identify potential applications for smart estates.  

Apart from 5G, the Singapore government is keen to evaluate new technologies such as blockchain or distributed ledger technology and electronic transferable records to facilitate electronic transactions. In addition, it is seeking public feedback on its review of the nation's Electronic Transactions Act, as part of efforts to ensure the legislation "continues to be progressive" and drive innovation in a digital economy, said IMDA. 

Specifically, its review would look to include more transactions under the act including property transactions, wills, and Lasting Powers of Attorney, update the Certification Authority framework, and outline details on the use of new technologies such as blockchain, smart contracts, and biometrics. 

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Iswaran said: "Programmes and policies are one limb in the innovation equation.  The birth of new technologies such as distributed ledger technology and smart contracts are opening up new ways of transacting today. Businesses are also digitalising and innovating, changing how businesses and consumers interact and transact with one another.  

"We need to ensure we have progressive legislation and regulations to foster business innovation and a trusted environment for these transactions on various digital platforms, that allows us to reap the full benefits," he said, adding that Singapore had been facilitating this through new legislations such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore's Payment Services Act as well as IMDA's AI Governance Framework.

With the Electronic Transactions Act, the government was looking to enable electronic transactions at scale by building a more trusted environment for businesses and consumers, he said. 

Noting that 70% of residential property transactions in Singapore still were carried out via physical copy, Iswaran said digitising property transactions would provide shorter transaction periods and reduce time spent on paperwork.

The government also was keen to enact a legislative framework for Electronic Transferable Records, so this was interoperable with the global electronic trade framework, he said. These records could speed up and beef up the security of cross-border e-commerce as well as support digital innovations such as the digitalisation of trade documents including bills of lading, which were documents to acknowledge receipt of cargo for shipment.  

With trade document processing and administration adding up to 20% to the cost of shipping in a single container, the Singapore minister said digitalising the process would increase efficiency, cut cost, and bring about new service offerings with visibility and control.

IMDA's chief executive Tan Kiat How said the initiatives announced today, spanning regulations and infrastructure building, were essential to support the country's goals to transform into a digital economy

In response to the 5G announcements, Singapore's third telco StarHub said it also was in discussions with "a number of enterprise and government clients" to run 5G pilots and "explore new business models". Noting that IMDA currently was reviewing its 5G spectrum licensing plans, StarHub said "a portion" of its network was 5G-ready and it was "awaiting the formal allocation of spectrum", which was expected later this year or next. 

In his remarks to the media yesterday, Iswaran said the deployment of 5G networks--currently proposed to comprise two main providers--were targeted for rollout next year.

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