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Singapore public sector to have own telecom network

In what sounds to be a massive project, the new telecommunications infrastructure will support the government's smart nation plan and likely comes as a move to address data security concerns.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

The Singapore government is planning to build a telecommunications network dedicated exclusively for use by the public sector and to support the country's smart nation rollouts.

In what sounds to be a massive project, the new infrastructure will provide integration and connectivity for thousands of sensors being rolled out--by various government agencies--to capture and collect data for various applications around urban mobility, sustainability, and improving sensing and situational awareness. These include surveillance cameras to capture errant litterbugs as well as the monitoring of floods via sensors installed in drains.

The move comes as a surprise since the Singapore government had previously relied on connectivity provided by local telcos.

A tender has been called for contractors to design and roll out the IP network, which will also have the ability to transmit mobile signals, according to a report Monday by local newspaper The Straits Times, citing tender documents. The tender will close on Feb 10.

The report said that ICT regulator Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) will identify and certify the telco responsible for operating the infrastructure on behalf of the government. No details were provided on how much the project was estimated to cost.

"As Singapore becomes a smart nation, we see new areas and opportunities for the government to do more to assist, grow and build up a common infrastructure to support the deployment of smart nation applications," an IDA spokesperson said in the report. "It is critical for the government to own key components of the IP core to ensure that such a platform is secure and trusted to safeguard potential sensitive information used across multiple government agencies."

While the move may pip the government as a new market player with the deployment of its own telecom network, the IDA spokesperson said there was no conflict of interest.

Data security, privacy concerns in smart nation ambition

The Singapore government's smart nation plan calls for all data captured via sensors to be collected and analyzed through a new platform--yet to be deployed--that will be owned by the government, but may eventually be operated and managed by private sector entities. If that happens, these companies will have to abide by parameters and regulations mandated by the government in managing the platform, IDA had said previously.

The large amount of data that will potentially be involved has inevitably triggered concerns about data privacy and security. During the launch of several smart nation initiatives last year, ZDNet asked IDA how data will be managed since the public sector is excluded from the country's Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), and there are private companies involved in the smart nation trials and rollouts.

The regulator's executive deputy chairman Steve Leonard acknowledged there were questions that still needed to be answered and issues worked out regarding data privacy. He added that policies and processes would have to be evaluated, and reevaluated.

This new move to build its own telecom network could be the result of the government's evaluations, but it sounds like an expensive solution and one that has other implications that current market players will probably want IDA to address.

Besides, wouldn't an easier and a cheaper solution be to simply include the public sector in the PDPA?

Or is the government really looking to build an alternative network so it can ensure an adequate level of service resiliency that it can't get elsewhere?

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