S'pore ups investment in wireless, ICT manpower

update Government extends free wireless service for another four years, and unveils two new manpower training schemes for graduates and ICT professionals.

update SINGAPORE--The government has launched two infocomm manpower development programs to help seed the country's talent pool, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) announced Tuesday.

Speaking at the imbX 2009 opening ceremony, Acting Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lui Tuck Yew, said Singapore needs to continue building its pool of "high-quality infocomm manpower".

Lastr year, this group of professionals grew by 6.6 percent to reach 139,000, up from 130,400 in 2007, according to IDA figures.

Lui said the IDA will invest S$20 million (US$13.7 million) in two programs that will offer training and attachment opportunities that are expected to cover 1,000 fresh graduates and infocomm professionals over the next two years.

The first, called iTAP (Infocomm Training and Attachment Programme), will offer infocomm-related attachment opportunities at companies, ranging from local companies to multinational corporations.

The second, the IDA terms iLEAD (Infocomm Leadership and Development Programme), will see the IDA working with employees to offer "local and overseas attachments, internships and specialized courses", said Lui.

Connectivity upgrades planned
Also announced today, the nationwide Wi-Fi hotspot program Wireless@SG, will continue to provide free wireless broadband connectivity until March 2013. Launched in 2006, the wireless network currently encompasses 7,500 hotspots located acorss the island-state.

Starting from September, Wireless@SG will also see a speed upgrade to 1Mbps from the current 512Kbps, and improved features such as automatic authentication, so that users do not have to key in credentials each time they log into the network.

Speaking at a media briefing later, Woo K.Y., the IDA's deputy director of next generation wireless and platforms, said the decision to extend the free Wireless@SG service was based on the "very encouraging" response from users. Initially set for 250,000, Woo noted that the number of subscribers has "far exceeded" that number, standing at 1.28 million as of January this year, with some 40,000 new subscribers added monthly.

The automated login process will enable handheld users to access the network more easily, he said, adding that 40 percent of Wireless@SG users are logging in using mobile devices.

Khoong Hock Yun, the IDA's assistant chief executive of infrastructure development group, said the provision of Wireless@SG would complement, not compete with cellular broadband services such as 3G. Khoong said Wireless@SG, as a free service, would provide "best effort" connectivity for non-critical applications and cater to users not already subscribed to paid cellular broadband, such as students.

He noted that Wi-Fi cannot be guaranteed against signal interference, since it operates on a public spectrum band. In comparison, 3G, operating on a private spectrum, allows mobile operators to guarantee service uptime, he added.

Since Wireless@SG is free, it also poses lower barriers to services and application providers wanting to offer services on the network. The four-year extension of the initiative would be "helpful" in getting more providers onboard, Khoong said.

The IDA will dedicate a further S$9 million (US$6.2 million) to Wireless@SG's next four years, depending on the ability of the service's three operators--iCell Network, SingTel and QMax Communications--to implement the new features and meet subscription targets.

The IDA did not specify what these figures were.

Khoong said the IDA would also "leave it up to operators" to expand hotspot coverage.

On the country's planned next-generation broadband network (NBN), appointed network company (NetCo), OpenNet, will complete 5 percent of its nationwide fiber rollout by September this year, OpenNet said at a press conference.

OpenNet CEO Tan Kah-Rhu said this would cover 2,000 buildings mostly in districts such as Macpherson, Middle Road and Geylang.

By the end of this year, some 150,000 units will be connected, she said. Local residents can check if their homes are covered under this initial deployment by keying their postal code here.

However, Tan noted that users still have to wait for retail service providers (RSPs) to start offering services via the NBN, before homes and businesses will be able to get on the network.

The next layer after the dark--laid but unused--fiber layer is the active infrastructure, to be built and managed by operating company (OpCo), Nucleus Connect. It is the intermediate layer between the NetCo and the RSPs.

According to OpenNet, the OpCo is scheduled to light up the dark fiber in April next year, with RSPs offering services from mid-2010.