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Singapore restructures government ICT space with merger, new unit

ICT and media regulators will merge to form the Infocom Media Development Authority, while a new Government Technology Organisation will lead ICT deployments in the public sector.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

The Singapore government has unveiled plans to merge two key industry agencies as well as create a new entity to oversee ICT deployments in the public sector.

The moves are part of efforts to better reflect industry changes and drive digital transformation of government services, according to Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.

The Infocommunications Development Authority (IDA) and Media Development Authority (MDA) will be melded into a newly created Infocommunications Media Development Authority (IMDA), which will subsume the roles of the former two as the nation's ICT and media regulators.

In his opening address Monday at the International Telecommunication Union Standardisation Sector (ITU-T) Study Group 20 meeting on IoT, Yaacob said the move was in line with the convergence of the infocomm and media sectors, and would provide the new agency with "deepen regulator capabilities" to lead the industry. The merged entity also would drive the country's national 10-year ICT roadmap, Infocomm Media 2025, and oversee the local personal data protection legislation.

"The new IMDA will be the converged promoter and regulator...safeguarding the interests of consumers and fostering pro-enterprise regulations," said the minister, who later told reporters the merger was necessary to ensure efficiencies and market relevance.

He explained that technology advancements over the past several years had resulted in overlaps between the broadcasting and telecommunications realms, creating instances where market players would have to toggle between the two regulatory bodies. Online content providers, for instance, currently would have to approach IDA and MDA separately to obtain the necessary licenses to operate in Singapore.

"The landscape has changed...so we need to act now to improve [existing processes]," Yaacob said.

A new body also will be formed to oversee ICT deployments and "digital transformation" within the local public sector, taking on IDA's current role as the government's CIO. To be called Government Technology Organisation (GTO), the new entity will drive the creation and adoption of e-government services.

"As the nexus of technology and engineering capability within the government, GTO will be well placed to help government agencies capitalise on the speed of innovation and new technology trends such as robotics, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), and big data," Yaacob said. The agency also will support Singapore's smart nation initiatives, the minister added.

Koh Boon Hwee, chairman of Infocomm Media Masterplan Steering Committee, said in a statement: "Advances in technology have blurred the distinction between broadcasting and telecommunications. The reorganisation of IDA and MDA is, therefore, not only timely but a positive development.

"The infocomm media sector offers many opportunities to improve productivity growth, create high-skilled jobs, support an ageing population, and foster a cohesive society in the midst of globalisation. It is an important sector for Singapore to nurture," Koh said. "I am confident that the newly merged IMDA will help the industry navigate the evolving environment and develop the necessary capabilities to stay relevant."

According to Yaacob, IMDA and GTO will begin "administrative" operations from April 1, 2016, but all relevant regulatory changes will kick in throughout the year, as legislative amendments will need time to process.

Until the government is ready to announce these changes, all ongoing work involving regulations, including the current review of the Broadcasting Act, will proceed as planned under the respective agency and existing licenses will continue to be under the purview of their corresponding agency, he noted.

The restructuring will see IDA's current managing director Jacqueline Poh as head of GTO, while MDA's CEO Gabriel Lim will lead IMDA. IDA's current executive deputy chairman Steve Leonard will be appointed IMDA's deputy chairman, which is a non-executive role. It is not known if Leonard's current contract with IDA, which expires in May 2016, will be renewed under IMDA.

Further details related to the restructuring will be announced when available, according to the agencies.

Embedded SIM pilot to lay IoT groundwork

At the IoT meeting, IDA also announced plans for a request for proposal (RFP) to run a pilot trial on embedded SIM (eSIM). To be issued this week, the RFP will assess GSM Association's (GMSA) specifications touted to enable eSIM cards to switch between different mobile network operators, to better facilitate machine-to-machine (M2M) devices and IoT deployments.

Currently, SIM cards are tied to a mobile network operator and will need to be replaced if there is a change in the operator. This will prove challenging for eSIM cards, which are typically permanently deployed to the system or IoT device. While there are tools in the market to address this, these are based on proprietary technology.

The trial will be based on GSMA's Embedded SIM Specification, which is designed to provide a standardised mechanism for the remote provisioning and control of M2M connections, enabling over-the-air (OTA) management of SIM cards.

Expected to run for three months, the pilot will allow IDA to "understand the technical capabilities and challenges" related to OTA subscription management, such as the downloading and deleting of the mobile operator's network profile on the SIM. The trial also will allow operators to understand the requirements and challenges related such remote management and identify potential security issues, IDA said.

The pilot will be conducted with local water agency, Public Utilities Board (PUB), tapping its M2M sensors, and involve Singapore's three mobile operators--M1, Singtel, and StarHub. These sensors, currently used to transmit data or send SMS alerts to PUB's operations and data centre, will carry out OTA network switches between the mobile operators during the trial.

ZDNet understand that the trial will commence when the service provider, to be selected following the conclusion of the RFP, is ready to begin the pilot. Although no specific timeline was provided, the pilot is targeted to begin later this year.

"Such [eSIM] standard will allow M2M businesses and, potentially, consumers with eSIM-equipped smartphones to switch network providers more flexibly," Yaacob said. "The adoption of interoperable standards will lead to a more competitive environment for the deployment of M2M devices, by lowering costs and increasing the adoption of IoT."

He added that industry standards would further improve sensing capabilities across IoT services and enable IoT devices to communication more seamlessly with each other.

IoT technology and services feature significantly in Singapore's smart nation initiatives.

Further stressing the importance of interoperability and "openness", ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau's director Chaesub Lee said: "Harmonised implementation of standards will help prevent the emergence of industry-specific technology silos, thus, ensuring all industries can benefit from the information drawn from data-driven IoT systems."

Lee, who was speaking at the IoT meeting, added that standardisation would play a key role in building a "trusted" IoT environment and ensure data security and privacy.

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