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Singapore unveils plan in push to become smart nation

Country introduces various initiatives as part of its goal to become the world's first smart nation, including a smart nation operating system and pilot trials at a designated residential-business estate.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

SINGAPORE--The Singapore government has introduced a slew of initiatives as part of its goal to become the world's first smart nation, including a smart nation operating system, Internet of Things scheme targeted at homes, and pilot trials at a designated residential-business estate.

Announced Tuesday at the opening of the Infocomm Media Business Exchange (imbX) conference and exhibition held here this week, the initiatives cut across infrastructure, software, and services identified as necessary components to support a smart nation blueprint. These include the need for continuing enhancements to the nationwide broadband network (NBN) and national wireless network Wireless@SG.

Singapore has made good progress in laying the backbone infrastructure to prepare for big data and analytics, Internet of Things, among others, with its Intelligent Nation 2015 Masterplan, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, during his opening address at the imbX show. The country is now putting together its next ICT blueprint spanning the next 10 years through to 2025, focusing strongly on data intelligence.

"Our goal is to establish Singapore as a smart nation that taps the potential of infocomm and media, and that nurtures innovative talent and enterprises," Yaacob said. This will boost economic growth and lead to better living standards for its citizens, he said.

During his parliament address last month, Singapore's president Tony Tan Keng Yam had called for the need to tap new technologies to develop sustainable solutions that improve the lives of the local population. This was critical as an increasingly complex and diverse city like Singapore will mean growing demand on amenities, infrastructure, and resources.

"We will make Singapore a smart nation: enabling safer, cleaner and greener urban living, more transport options, better care for the elderly at home; more responsive public services and more opportunities for citizen engagement," Tan said. 

Led by ICT regulator Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), which first unveiled its smart nation ambition at last year's imbX, one key rollout that was part of today's announcements was the new Smart Nation Platform (SNP). Built on three focus areas--connect, collect, and comprehend--the platform will provide an operating system that all public agencies can connect to. This will enable essential data, captured and collected via sensors placed around Singapore, to be anonymized, secured, managed, and shared.

To facilitate the collection of such data, IDA will spearhead a project involving "above-ground boxes" that serve as all-in-one containers with power and fiber connectivity, and can hold data sensors from different government agencies. These boxes reduce the need for unnecessary groundwork, hence, cutting deploying time and cost, IDA said.

The regulator is looking to install the boxes in common outdoor areas where there is demand for sensor-based technologies, such as bus stops, parks, and traffic junctions.

Such data can then be collected and analyzed to produce relevant insights and determine timely, and appropriate, decisions to support more responsive and "anticipatory" services for Singapore citizens. IDA believes an anticipatory government will allow issues to be resolved before they are even raised by the general public and facilitate better policy planning and creation of citizen-centric services. For instance, deeper insights and analysis will signal the need for more cleaners to attend to HDB estates that have more litter.

Above-ground box, IDA
Above-ground boxes serve as all-in-one containers with power and fiber connectivity, and can hold data sensors from different government agencies.

According to the ICT regulator, the smart nation platform will also provide access to meaningful information, enabling citizens to make better decisions related to transport, health, and other services. Better data insights can also help local organizations improve their business operations. 

The platform is further touted to offer access to rich-data as well as innovative products and ideas, hence, potentially fueling the development of tools that can improve the society as a whole, IDA said.

It added that Singapore must improve its communications infrastructure to support growing demand for mobile and online connectivity. One such initiative is the heterogeneous network (HetNet), which is touted to facilitate more optimal use of wireless spectrum by enabling devices to switch between various types of wireless networks and allowing users to roam seamlessly between different networks. 

First announced in March 2014, the HetNet will be ready for trials next year to allow IDA to identify technologies and capabilities that can be made commercially available. The regulator said more details on how market players can participate in the trials will be released at an industry event on July 1. 

Smart nation trials at Jurong Lake District

The Singapore government has earmarked a residential-business estate as a testbed for its smart nation technologies and services. Located in the western part of the island, Jurong Lake District (JLD) is one of the country's new growth areas identified to support economic growth and decentralize commercial activities out of the main city area. 

The goal is for JLD to be a model for developing a mixed-used urban area that is sustainable, smart, and connected, IDA said. To drive this vision, several trials will be deployed from third-quarter 2014 and will involve more than 20 startups and companies as well as various government agencies including the Housing Development Board (HDB), Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Environment Agency, and Land Transport Authority. 

The pilots will see the rollout of more than 1,000 sensors to trial various applications around urban mobility, sustainability, and improving sensing and situational awareness. 

One such trial, for example, will see ST Electronics developing a common traffic simulation platform to simulate and evaluate different traffic control algorithms, with possible traffic signal control plans to improve road traffic management in JLD. 

Another trial involves RF Net, Panasonic, and Elixir Technology, which will assess a smart queue monitoring system that taps advanced video sensing to determine in real-time the length and flow of a queue, for instance, at taxi stands. This information including potential waiting time can be fed to commuters who can then make informed decisions on their travel choices. The data can also alert taxi companies on locations that require more cabs. 

NCS will also trial a mobile system to assist in the automated detection of illegal parking via the use of advanced video sensing technologies, while Temasek Polytechnic and ZWEEC Analytics will pilot another automated system to determine the cleanliness of public areas. Again with the use of advanced video sensing as well as smart bin technologies, this system aims to improve the deployment of resources to maintain public areas. 

Another new initiative aims to drive the use of Internet of Things (IoT) in Singapore homes. IDA noted that IoT applications currently deployed in homes today include wearables and home appliances, which are typically connected within their own networks and cannot communicate with one another. This lack of interoperability inhibits the potential of IoT applications. 

IDA hopes to address this challenge with its IoT@Home programme, which will involve working with the industry to establish open standards and open architecture to support better interoperability. The initiative also aims to drive the development of IoT applications and trials for homes, specifically, around the the areas of wellness, active ageing, home-based care, and sustainable living. 

IDA will create an industry working group within its IT STandards Committee to determine the relevant open standards and create a set of technical specifications that can be tested and formalized as standards. The regulator has roped in HDB to conduct an IoT technical performance study to identify relevant technical standards that can be used to deploy IoT applications in Singapore's public housing apartments. 

Yaacob noted that there were already many smart cities across the globe that had begun wiring up and connecting themselves to drive better efficiency and benefits for their citizens. He pointed to cities such as Bardelona and Santander in Spain, and Amsterdam in The Netherlands.

"As cities continue to grow, demands on urban infrastruture will also increase and resources will become scarcer," he noted. "It is, therefore, imperative to develop smart communities that can be driven by intelligence, integration, and innovation. We believe a smart nation can become a really if we successfully combine policy, people, and technology in a concerted fashion."

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