Singapore Budget 2014: Infocomm Media Masterplan moots network auto-switching

IMAGINE being able to switch automatically to another wireless network, be it 3G or Wi-Fi, when there is a major outage at one telco or if surfing is slow on one network.

This idea of a nationwide heterogenous network (HetNet) is one of the key thrusts of Singapore's new 10-year Infocomm Media Masterplan until 2025.

Announcing the new Masterplan Monday during the Committee of Supply debate, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the idea will help the nation cope with scarce wireless spectrum amidst rising demand for mobile Internet access.

"In a HetNet, operators will be able to achieve better management of traffic in their wireless networks," said Dr Yaacob.

"Users will be able to connect more seamlessly and operate their devices across different wireless networks such as cellular and Wi-Fi. Their devices will also connect to and utilise the best available network in range," he said.

With this, Singapore could be among the first in the world alongside the Netherlands to adopt HetNet at the nationwide level. The Netherlands rolled this out after a 2012 outage of operator Vodafone's mobile services that affected about a quarter of its five million customers for days.

A consultation document on the Masterplan, spearheaded by a 14-member committee, will be released later this month.

The committee, chaired by chairman of private equity fund Credence Capital Koh Boon Hwee, is also looking into other broad areas such as research and development, and manpower and infrastructure development.

While the previous Intelligent Nation 2015 Masterplan - conceived in 2005 - focuses on boosting adoption of IT among consumers and businesses by 2015, the new Masterplan will take advantage of opportunities created by the growing convergence of the IT and media sectors.

Other key ideas in the new plan include making home-based healthcare more widely available through the use of sensors.

"Sensors can help stable chronic disease patients self-monitor their conditions in the comfort of their own homes, and receive healthcare services only when necessary," said Dr Yaacob.

For example, floor mats embedded with sensors can help patients regularly monitor their weight.

Sudden weight fluctuations may suggest sudden fluid retention from renal or cardiac failure. This could be a result of the patient not taking his medication as prescribed. The caretaker can then intervene to prevent the patient's condition from worsening and possibly avoid costly hospital re-admissions.

Computational thinking is the third key idea proposed in the Masterplan. Specifically, coding will be introduced in schools via enrichment programmes, competitions and infocomm clubs to teach fundamental programming concepts as part of a national CODE@SG movement.

Dr Yaacob said that students need to be more familiar with computational thinking to realise the ideas of HetNet and home-based healthcare in Singapore, for instance.

Register here to get free digital access to The Straits Times until Aug 9, 2015.