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Singapore lets telcos test 5G services for free

Government waives frequency fees for 5G trials until December 2019, in a move aimed at driving the market and uncovering potential use cases for the next-generation network.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore is letting telcos test 5G services for free over the next two years, as part of efforts to spur the industry and uncover potential use cases for the next-generation communications network.

Frequency fees for 5G trials would be waived with immediate effect and until December 2019, allowing telcos to save S$11,200 a year that they would otherwise have to fork out, said Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). The industry regulator said this would lower regulatory barriers and encourage industry players to explore potential applications of 5G networks.

It added that 5G trials conducted in Singapore so far had achieved throughputs of more than 1Gbps with latency of less than 1 millisecond.

Commercial deployments, however, were expected to hit the market only in 2020, reaching speeds of up to 20Gbps--or fast enough to download an ultra-high HD movie on a mobile device in 10 seconds.

Speaking at the opening of the IMBX conference Tuesday, Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said such enhancements would be critical to support the deployment of key components such as Internet of Things (IoT), which was one of four technology focus areas IMDA had identified as critical in the nation's digital transformation. The other focus areas were artificial intelligence (AI) and data science, cybersecurity, and immersive media, which included virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, Yaacob said.

"Exponential growth in processing power, internet connectivity, and usage of mobile devices have led to rapid growth of devices, services, and software for IoT worldwide," the minister said. "To further multiply the potential of IoT, and to further fuel the digital economy, IMDA will be partnering the industry to develop and put in place key components of future-ready and resilient communications infrastructure that will benefit consumers and businesses across various sectors."

He said these would encompass enhancements to Singapore's nationwide broadband network, IoT networks, 5G mobile network, and sensor networks, in order to provide companies with access to high-speed networks, real-time communications, and high-accuracy location positioning. Yaacob, however, did not offer details on specifically how these networks would be further improved.

Singapore's smart nation push included the rollout of data sensors across the city-state from which essential data would be capture, anonymised, secured, and shared to improve service delivery.

Yaacob said IMDA would look to seek industry feedback and ideas, including on 5G spectrum requirements and regulatory provisions.

"Technologies such as VR, IoT, and autonomous vehicles are expected to shape future digital interactions for our economy and society," IMDA said. "The emergence of these technologies is underpinned by reliable and secure telecommunication infrastructure, which enables wireless and mobile communication technology to play an increasingly important role going forward."

"5G is seen as a comprehensive wireless-access solution with the capacity to address the demands and requirements of mobile communications beyond 2020," it added.

Security consciousness necessary in IoT era

With IoT devices expected to be pervasive, even greater emphasis would need to be put on cybersecurity, said Rajnesh Singh, Asia-Pacific regional bureau director of Internet Society (ISOC), who urged the need for a code of conduct, which was now more necessary than ever.

Singh, who was scheduled to speak at IMBX about the need to rethink security in an IoT era, expressed concerns about the potential scale of IoT deployment and its impact on security.

Speaking to ZDNet on the sidelines of the conference, he said cars now could drive and start on their own and healthcare monitoring systems were used in homes. One security exploit in such scenario could have a major impact on the industry, he said, stressing the need for all IoT players to adopt a security-by-design mindset.

He noted that while standards involving IoT implementations were still being worked out, billions of such devices already were being sold and used in the market today. These could include products made by trusted brands as well as third-party or smaller manufacturers that might not always consider data privacy and security a top priority.

Industry standardisation might be established over the next six or 12 months, but existing devices could not be "retro-fitted" and this would further exacerbate the security issue, Singh said.

"There's also a question of who is responsible for security here," he said, noting that while IT departments previously were looked upon to address such issues, the landscape had since evolved to one where anyone today could be a creator of an app or service, which then were made available on appstores.

This increased access meant security now was a shared responsibility, spanning beyond IT departments, software vendors, governments, or industry bodies, he said.

Asked then whether the US National Security Agency (NSA), Microsoft, or companies and consumers should be held responsible for last week's global ransomware attacks, Singh pointed to the need for an industry code of conduct that governments, too, should observe.

There needed to be a sense of obligation and thought around the wider consequences of creating an exploit, even if it was originally intended for the public good, when it could be leaked, he said. A code of conduct could stipulate when the exploit must be disclosed, to minimise the harm it could do, or detail the consequences of stockpiling known vulnerabilities, he suggested.

He acknowledged that businesses and consumers should not be complacent about installing the latest security patch, but said there needed to be consideration for users who might face limitations in doing so.

In some developing markets, for instance, consumers might face challenges connecting to the internet and downloading huge files with limited access to high bandwidth. There also were added costs associated with downloading large software patches, especially in countries where users might have a monthly data cap of 1GB.

Noting that he recently had to download two patches for an office productivity suite, totally 800MB in file size, within a span of three days, Singh said: "Can all users in those countries afford to consume 800MB of their 1GB monthly cap just to patch their software?"

IT vendors also should share some responsibility in ensuring their products were secured, he said, adding that an industry code of conduct would ensure all relevant parties played their role in creating a more secured environment.

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