New blueprint for 10Gbps home links, 6G mobile as S’pore gathers speed in digital race

Broadband plans with surfing speeds of up to 1Gbps is the current standard in households here. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

SINGAPORE - A new national blueprint that outlines plans for 6G mobile and a 10Gbps home broadband network is being put together to help Singapore chart new growth opportunities and gather speed in the global race for digital dominance.

Dubbed Digital Connectivity Blueprint, it will also include plans to have more subsea cables in Singapore to boost digital trade and data flow through the nation, which will in turn attract more investments here.

Highlighting the importance of these aspirations, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said: “It will lay the groundwork for us to transcend our resource constraints and create economic opportunities for all Singaporeans.”

This will be similar to how the Urban Redevelopment Authority is shaping the city’s development over the next 50 years, or how the Land Transport Master Plan 2040 outlines Singapore’s transport ambitions for the next two decades, she said.

“Few countries think this far ahead, much less organise themselves to realise such plans,” said Mrs Teo in a debate on her ministry’s budget on Tuesday, responding to MPs’ questions on plans to upgrade Singapore’s wired and wireless networks.

The Ministry of Communications and Information has formed an advisory panel comprising eight business and industry experts to shape the blueprint, due to be launched later in 2023.

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary co-chairs the panel with Mr Irving Tan, Western Digital’s executive vice-president of global operations. The other panel members include executives from tech firms Dell Technologies and Terrascope; investment firm Focustech Ventures; consultancy firms Temus and Kearney; and trade association SGTech.

Broadband plans with surfing speeds of up to 1Gbps are the current standard in households here. This is possible with the nationwide roll-out of Singapore’s Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network (NGNBN) in 2010 with a $750 million government grant.

With broadband connectivity available at fixed wholesale prices under NGNBN, start-ups like MyRepublic and ViewQwest set up shop here to offer Internet access services to compete with those of Singtel, StarHub and M1.

Greater competition brought down the prices of broadband plans, allowing more homes to afford the high-speed connectivity. This paved the way for people to work, study and stay connected with loved ones and critical services when Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were imposed in 2020 and 2021.

Separately, Singapore is among the first countries in the world to have rolled out 5G services nationwide based on the latest dedicated 5G gear, allowing support for secure, mission-critical applications including robot-run factories and ports. 

For instance, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore is experimenting with 5G mobile services on the southern coast of Singapore to provide telemedicine to crew at sea, and remotely control unmanned vessels to inspect ships and fight fires.

To promote 5G commercial uses, the Infocomm and Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) have committed $70 million worth of grants to qualifying projects. So far, 13 projects have received funding. They include a soon-to-launch Hyundai Motor Group smart factory equipped with 5G-enabled robots to manufacture built-to-order electric vehicles.

While 5G networks are 10 times faster and enable about 1,000 more devices to be connected without any transmission lag compared with 4G ones, 6G networks could be up to 100 times faster than 5G networks. The 6G networks are also said to have the potential to make the digital and physical world indistinguishable through artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) technologies.

What’s more, 6G networks could deliver the promise of edge computing, where data processing is done by hardware mounted on, for example, a lamp post close to the user of a self-driving car or a pair of VR glasses, rather than in a data centre located far away. This also means the driverless car or the VR glasses need not be too bulky.

“A digital infrastructure that delivers ubiquitous edge computing will open up endless possibilities by bringing AI, imaging and sensing capabilities up close to where data is being generated,” said Western Digital’s Mr Tan.

So far, investments in 6G have come under another $70 million Future Communications Research and Development Programme by IMDA and NRF to foster developments in AI and cyber security for next-generation communications infrastructure. Projects are being worked on at the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Future Communications Connectivity Lab, launched in September 2022.

Complementing these efforts are plans to attract top-tier AI researchers to be based in Singapore to mentor and groom promising talent. The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office and National Research Foundation will announce more details in the coming months.

Later in 2023, MCI will also launch another high-level plan called the Digital Enterprise Blueprint to drive broad-based digitalisation across the economy through greater use of national digital utilities – including CorpPass authentication, e-invoicing InvoiceNow and instant fund transfer PayNow systems. 

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