Mr Leong Keng Thai, Director-General Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS) Speech - Temasek Polytechnic's Graduation Ceremony
Mr Leong Keng Thai, Director-General
Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS)
Speech - Temasek Polytechnic's Graduation Ceremony
Singapore, 17 August 1998
Assoc Prof Yue Chee Yoon, Board Member
Dr N Varaprasad, Principal / CEO
Mr. Geoffrey Ng, Deputy Principal
Mr. Moses Wong, Registrar
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. It is my pleasure to address you at this Graduation Ceremony. Let me first extend my heartiest congratulations to all the graduands this evening. You must feel a great sense of achievement and pride, for this event is the culmination of many years of hard work. Your graduation has now become a new milestone in your lives and you will now have to decide on your next step.
2. So, what is your next step? Many of you must have thought about this question and perhaps felt that this is indeed a tough question to answer in today's regional economic situation. Singapore is probably facing the most challenging of times since our independence 33 years ago. The entire region is filled with uncertainties and things don't appear to look any better in the near term. And amidst all these happenings, you are about to make one of the most important decisions in your life.
3. But don't despair, for there is a silver lining in every cloud. While many people have forecasted that the economic situation will take a turn for the worst, the good news is that all of you here tonight are graduating in courses which are highly relevant in the fast-paced and expanding telecommunication and information technology industry. Let me try and convince you so.
4. The telecommunication and IT industry is probably more resilient to hard times like this because it is primarily driven by technology and liberalisation. Both these factors are very global in nature and can mitigate local and regional trends.
5. The telecommunication and IT industry has been extremely fast-paced in its development over the last 5 years and is continuing to expand at a rapid rate. The industry is characterised by new innovations and rapid technology changes. We are constantly amazed at how fast technology and innovation in this industry outdoes itself time and again. Let's look at how new technology impacts on people's life in Singapore.
6. Let's start by looking at the plain old telephone and see how long it took to gain widespread acceptance in Singapore. Did you know that Singapore had its first telephone service in 1879, merely 3 years after the telephone was invented? It took Singapore almost a 100 years to reach half a million phone users in 1978, but after a mere 20 more years, the number of users increased dramatically to 1.7 million. The scenario seen in the cellular service is quite dramatically different. Singapore introduced cellular service in 1988. Today, the total number of cellular phone users is 903,000, or a penetration of 29.1%. We had half a million cellular users only in May 1997. So while it took 9 years to reach half a million users in this case, but because of competition, it took only 1 year to almost double the number of cellular users from half a million to one million.
7. In the case of the Internet, it is even more impressive. Commercial Internet services was first launched in 1994. Today, the total number of Internet users is more than 502,000. Therefore, Internet took only 4 years to achieve what the telephone took almost a hundred years to do. The Internet looks set to explode with many more new and innovative applications such as electronic commerce.
8. Not far on the horizon is the emergence of satellite telephones. About the size of your handphone, these devices will communicate directly with satellites flying above us, much like cellular base stations in the sky. With this technology, people will be able to communicate truly anywhere globally, at anytime. You will see this being made available within the next 12 months.
9. So you can see technology is constantly pushing the limits of our imagination and ensuring new and innovative services are delivered to help people to be more in touch and informed.
10. The telecommunication industry is global because telecommunication itself is global. As such, nations recognize that without proper coordination and cooperation, true global communication cannot take place. In recent years, there has been increasing awareness and emphasis in establishing regional and global reforms so as to pave the way for enhancing telecommunication as an open global industry.
11. One of the most significant steps towards reaching this goal is the successful conclusion in February of 1997 of the WTO agreement on basic telecommunication services. As of June 1998, a total of 72 countries signed on to this agreement which binds nations to liberalize and open their telecom markets to competition by committed timeframes. This was the first agreement in the WTO trade in services sector. It reflects the importance of telecommunication as an industry and as an essential infrastructure to economic development of nations.
12. More recently, at the Third APEC Ministerial Meeting on the Telecommunication and Information Industry held in Singapore in June this year, a landmark Singapore Declaration was endorsed by the ministers. This Singapore Declaration provides future directions for the development of telecommunication and IT amongst APEC economies in areas such as e-commerce, trade and investment liberalization, public-private sector partnership and regional interconnectivity of broadband networks. A key outcome of this Meeting was the Mutual Recognition Agreement or MRA for conformance assessment of telecommunication equipment. In short, it means that equipment manufacturers and suppliers will soon find it more hassle free when trading in the region because their equipment can be tested and certified in accordance to the destination economies' requirements before they are being exported.
13. Back home in Singapore, I am sure you are aware of the many efforts in opening and liberalizing the telecommunications market. Today, although Singapore Telecom has a monopoly over the provision of all Public Basic Telecommunication Services in Singapore until 31 March 2000, the Government has already initiated steps to liberalize the provision of non-basic telecommunication services in Singapore. To date, the provision of cellular services, paging services, public trunked radio services, value-added networks and Internet access services have already been fully liberalized.
14. In 1996, the Government adopted the decision to further liberalise the full spectrum of telecommunication services. This decision was taken in response to the growing importance of telecommunications in maintaining Singapore's position as a business hub and to ensure we can benefit from rapid technological advances and the growing sophistication of consumers. As a result, the Government shortened the expiry of SingTel's monopoly from the original date of 2007 to 2000. Two tenders were called in the latter part of last year to license additional fixed line and cellular services operators.
15. Both the fixed-line and cellular services licences were eventually awarded only to StarHub, the consortium consisting of Singapore Technologies, Singapore Power, British Telecom and Nippon Telephone and Telegraph. StarHub was selected for the fixed line licence primarily because of its aggressive rollout plans for an extensive optical fibre network to homes, offices and buildings from the year 2000. StarHub has committed to invest more than S$2 billion in its fixed line network and has also offered a comprehensive range of services at competitive prices and at higher quality of service standards. Similarly, StarHub was awarded the cellular service licence due to its commitment to offer comprehensive suite of customer-oriented services, supported by an extensive network rollout. StarHub will launch both its fixed line and cellular services on 1 Apr 2000.
16. Besides liberalizing the market, we have also taken steps to ensure that the telecommunication infrastructure is always at the leading edge so that advanced technologies and services can be deployed. You must have heard of or know already about Singapore ONE and its objective of making broadband network and services pervasive throughout Singapore. The Government and public agencies like TAS are in fact providing funding and policy support to ensure the speed of success of this project. We see broadband as a crucial element in preparing Singapore for our future as the world evolves into the Information Age.
17. As you can see, the new millennia will herald in an exciting era for Singapore's telecommunication industry. The strategies and steps that we are taking to develop the industry are for the long term and are intended to look forward into the future. Even in this time of economic uncertainties, our efforts to prime the industry will be relentless. This vibrant and dynamic industry will offer a virtually unlimited range of opportunities for hardworking and enterprising graduands such as yourselves. I hope that you will continue to challenge yourselves and seek every opportunity possible.
18. With that, I would like to once again extend my heartfelt congratulations to all of you. I have enjoyed the opportunity of addressing you today and I wish you all the best and every success in your careers ahead.