SINGAPORE - Digital connectivity helped Singaporeans get through the pandemic, and the country is now planning to boost fibre broadband speeds in homes to 10Gbps, from 1Gbps - the current standard among households here.
This is among a series of upgrades to the country's digital connectivity infrastructure, which also include expanding its 5G ecosystem and investing in research on 6G, said Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo on Monday.
She was speaking at the official launch of the Future Communications Connectivity Lab at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).
"During the pandemic, our strong connectivity contributed to Singapore's resilience, allowing our lives and livelihoods to transit digitally," she said.
But technology developments, such as in augmented reality and virtual reality, as well as the metaverse, will demand greater broadband bandwidth, added Mrs Teo.
She noted that other countries are also striving to improve their digital connectivity. South Korea has set a goal of reaching 50 per cent countrywide adoption of 10Gbps services by the end of this year.
"We must enable widespread and affordable access to high-quality digital connectivity, just as we make it possible for ordinary citizens to have access to quality education, healthcare and housing," said Mrs Teo.
She did not give details of how or when the broadband upgrade will be rolled out, or how it will be funded.
In 2008, the Government provided a grant of up to $750 million to fibre operator OpenNet, which had been tasked to construct the current broadband network.
The project was estimated to have cost $1 billion. OpenNet was acquired by NetLink Trust in 2014.
Internet service providers here said they welcome the upgrade plans.
“MyRepublic stands ready to help reinforce Singapore’s ambition as a digital hub,” said Mr Lawrence Chan, MyRepublic’s managing director for Singapore.
StarHub said it is on track to deploy a solution for its broadband services that can enable network speeds of up to 10Gbps.
Ms Anna Yip, chief executive officer of Singtel's Singapore consumer business, said Singtel started offering 10Gbps fibre broadband services here as early as February 2016.
“We see more and more households upgrading to 2Gbps plans, which is fast becoming the ‘new standard’, as they embrace the hybrid way of living and working,” she added.
On Monday, Mrs Teo said the opening of the Future Communications Connectivity Lab represents an important milestone.
The lab - a partnership between SUTD and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) - aims to accelerate research on future communications technologies and support developments such as holographic communications.
It is the first physical lab in the region to integrate research and development in artificial intelligence with that in 6G.
A 5G network is said to be 10 times faster than 4G, allowing a high-definition movie to be downloaded in seconds instead of minutes.
It also has more bandwidth, enabling about 1,000 more devices to be connected without any transmission lag, compared with 4G.
But 6G could potentially be five times faster, more reliable and have 10 times less lag than 5G, according to research by vivo Communications Research Institute.
Other research papers have suggested that 6G will be 100 times faster than 5G.
Possible uses of 6G include supporting immersive mixed-reality experiences, such as allowing users to taste the flavour of a food digitally, and enabling different systems to be integrated together for faster responses to crises.
The lab is also part of Singapore's Future Communications Research and Development Programme, which the country has invested close to $70 million in.
The programme, which was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in July last year, seeks to explore topics such as artificial intelligence and cyber security for next-generation communications infrastructure.
There are currently 20 projects under the programme, including on multi-access edge computing (MEC), said IMDA on Monday.
MEC technology brings computing equipment, such as for storage, closer to the end user in a network. Data from end-user sources, such as a security camera or drone, can therefore be processed and stored without needing to be sent to a server that is further away.
This allows the data to be secure and reduces transmission time, enabling users to make quicker real-time decisions.
The programme will also focus on building research links across borders.
"Internationally, Singapore has already forged 6G partnerships with leading 6G institutions such as Finland's 6G Flagship, and the Korean Institute of Communications and Information Sciences," said IMDA.
Fourteen scholarships for local students to pursue research and development of future communications technologies have also been awarded under the programme.