SINGAPORE: The move to 5G networks here has the potential to make work more efficient and productive and make lives much better, said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran in an interview with CNA938 on Wednesday (Nov 20).
In October, Mr Iswaran announced that 5G coverage – the fifth generation of high-speed mobile Internet, which will begin rolling out in Singapore by next year – will be available across at least half the island by 2022.
Speaking to Singapore Today hosts Lance Alexander and Melanie Oliviero, Mr Iswaran acknowledged that the discussion around such technologies can be “a little bit esoteric” as many may not be aware of what it entails.
For the average consumer, the switch to 5G, expected to be 20 times faster than existing 4G networks, will mean faster download speeds for videos and mobile gaming, he noted.
However, the most significant impact of the move to 5G will be on industries.
The new networks will result in “much higher data flow rates” and be able to support “a lot more sensors and devices”, he said.
“So if you want to have a smarter transportation system, which will benefit all our citizens, 5G can help. If you want to have a smarter manufacturing factory floor with equipment, automation and so on, 5G makes a difference.”
Citing the example of container port operator PSA - which is currently testing the use of automated guided vehicles at its terminals - Mr Iswaran said the move to 5G would facilitate the “almost complete automation” of its operations at the future Tuas megaport.
Noting 5G is still new, Mr Iswaran said the authorities here are still working to “curate the solutions” to challenges posed by the adoption of the new technology.
While it is possible that different countries such as the United States and China may adopt competing 5G standards, such a situation would not be beneficial to anyone, he said.
Comparing the possibility to defunct mobile networks like GSM and CDMA, which were used in different countries, Mr Iswaran said a return to such a situation would be “cumbersome and clunky”.
“I think nobody wants that. Certainly not countries like Singapore and so on, but I think even the Americans and the Chinese would not want that because the whole advantage of the technology is when you can communicate and interoperate.”
SMART NATION EFFORTS
When asked about Singapore’s placing first among 102 cities in the inaugural IMD Smart Cities Index – published last month by Swiss business school IMD and the Singapore University of Technology and Design – Mr Iswaran said the country is not motivated by the desire for rankings on such “league tables”.
“It's not about tech for the sake of tech, or Smart Nation for the sake of being on the top of the league here,” he said.
“It's really about how it makes a difference for our citizens, and how it makes a difference for our companies.”
Singapore’s Smart Nation drive is an ongoing journey, he said, noting “a lot of work needs to be constantly done” as technology continues to change.
When asked how the information and communications technology workforce here might be impacted by an economic downturn, Mr Iswaran noted the sector has been fairly resilient.
The sector has had a “strong growth rate”, with an annualised nominal growth rate of about 8.3 per cent between 2016 and 2018, he added.
“The total employment in the sector is well over 200,000, and what we see is there's continuing demand. In fact, the job creation in this sector is one of the strong parts.”
The sector is “holding up well” and offers great opportunities, he said, adding both tech companies as well as those from other industries need people with capabilities in emerging areas such as artificial intelligence and data protection.
Countries such as China and the United States see opportunities in Southeast Asia, and they see Singapore as a launchpad into the region.
“So I would say the prospects are good, but we shouldn't be complacent and we have to work at making full use of it.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story quoted Minister Iswaran as saying that the information and communications technology sector had an annualised nominal growth rate of about 8.2 per cent between 2016 and 2018. The ministry has clarified that the growth rate is about 8.3 per cent.