Mr Leong Keng Thai, Director-General, Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS) Speech - Telecom Interative 97, Intelligent Communities Agora, Small Countries Heading For the GIS - 'S'pore's Approach to Building an Intelligent City'
Mr Leong Keng Thai, Director-General,
Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS)
Speech - Telecom Interative 97, Intelligent Communities Agora, Small Countries Heading For the GIS - 'S'pore's Approach to Building an Intelligent City'
Geneva, 11 September 1997
Good morning your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be at this event to see some of the world's most innovative and prestigious developments in interactive multimedia technologies and services. It is also a pleasure for me to be involved in the discussion of this exciting issue of national and global information infrastructures.
However, I think it would be unnecessary for me to discuss with you all the trends of digital technologies and convergence of industries in this session. Nor would I talk about the importance of the various developments going on concerning building of national, regional and global information infrastructures. This is because I believe such issues would have been thoroughly discussed and debated both inside the conference rooms as well as outside. Besides, I would probably be preaching to the converted.
Instead, I would like to focus on sharing briefly Singapore's experience so far and what we are doing to implement our national information infrastructure (NII). I believe that one of the key factors of success in developing an NII is the size of the country. In this case, small is beautiful. But this is only one aspect. I hope that with whatever limited experience we have to offer, the panelists could draw useful conclusions from this Singapore case study.
Transforming Singapore into an Intelligent Island
The development of an Intelligent community must come hand in hand with the building of a National Information Infrastructure (NII). The construction of the NII should not only enable the delivery of vast amounts of information quickly to every user but it should also seek to revolutionise the way information is delivered and the way people interact and transact. The benefits of the NII for the nation are immense. The NII can reinvent the lives of people - eliminating the constraints of distance, time, disability and economic status, giving all users a fair opportunity to go as far as their minds will take them.
Perhaps more important than the hard infrastructure is the consumer or more specifically, the value added created for and demanded by consumers. The connection of consumers into the electronic information world must not simply be approached as a technology push. It must instead be an all encompassing development and nurturing of an information and networked society.
The Presence of Raw Ingredients
Any meaningful NII cannot be built instantly overnight. This is because as I have suggested, it involves not just hardware but the 'software' of the users and communities which is hard to buy with money. The crucial raw ingredients must either be present or first acquired. These are an advanced telecommunication network and a population and work force well trained and adaptive to information technology.
Fortunately for Singapore, we think we may have some of these raw ingredients in place.
The present telecommunication infrastructure in Singapore includes a fully digitalised network, 100% ISDN availability, the world's highest urban concentration of optical fiber, one of the lowest telecommunications charges in the world, and a target date of 2005 for Optical-Fiber-To-The-Home.
Singapore Telecom has initiated a Video-on-Demand (VOD) trial and is currently working on the use of ADSL technology to deliver multimedia interactive applications and services to users via ADSL modems. Singapore CableVision, is currently driving the construction of a nation-wide cable TV network based on hybrid fibre-coaxial technology, with a target to pass 90% (800,000) of homes in Singapore by 1998/99. The cable TV network provides another key means of broadband access from homes.
Back in the early 1980s, the government initiated a nationwide computerisation programme starting with the public sector. Education and usage of IT were greatly encouraged and in 1991, the IT2000 Vision was launched by the National Computer Board.
Today, the use of IT is highly pervasive in many aspects of daily life. The public sector is fully computerised and networked and a large proportion of the private sectors' use IT as a strategic business tool. The PC penetration in Singapore is close to 40% and 1 in 10 Singaporeans is an internet user.
To embark on the next stage to develop a broadband nationwide infrastructure, the government recognised that the development of such an infrastructure, if left purely to commercial decisions, will be slow. To maintain our competitiveness, Singapore cannot afford to wait until commercially viable broadband applications and market demand becomes a certainty. Thus, the Government took the initiative to jump-start Singapore's development of a pervasive broadband infrastructure, Singapore ONE (One Network for Everyone).
Right from the start, our approach to building an NII is to put together critical ingredients and try to gel them together from day one. In our case, we found it essential to ensure that telecommunication infrastructure building, content and application development, and nurturing relevant enabling technologies must coexist and move forward in tandem.
To realise this initiative, a Singapore ONE Steering Committee comprising TAS, National Computer Board (NCB), National Science and Technology Board (NSTB), Economic Development Board (EDB) and Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) was formed. Such a multi-agency approach is designed to synergise the various elements needed to make the Singapore ONE project a success.
The Singapore ONE infrastructure takes the form of a core broadband network feeding several local access networks based on different technologies. The two operators Singapore Telecom and Singapore Cable Vision will utilise the existing telephony and cable TV infrastructure respectively to deliver broadband multimedia services to the end-users.
They will employ advanced technologies of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) and Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) cables modems in their extensive existing infrastructure to deliver multimedia services at high speeds to the end-users at home, schools, offices or public areas.
The Singapore ONE core broadband is built and operated by a consortium called 1-Net. The core broadband network infrastructure which is based on Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) technology will have open interfaces for connection to the service providers and local access networks.
As of the launch of the Singapore ONE network and services in Asia Telecom '97, an initial 500 users have been identified. Each trial user received a trial package which included a broadband access modem, a cable modem or an ADSL modem, and a network card that connects to the broadband access network.
The number of users will be scaled up to at least 5,000 by the end of this year. It is anticipated that full commercial service of Singapore ONE will be launched in early 1998.
A balanced and positive regulatory environment is necessary for both the businesses to create new applications and services and for the public to adopt the new products. The Government recognises the need to reform the telecommunications market in order for info-communication services to be realised.
We view liberalisation as the best strategy towards ensuring that Singapore keeps pace with an ever-evolving telecommunication industry. We do not want to see Singapore taking the risk of being left behind in the technology race and becoming uncompetitive. By having a competitive telecommunication environment in Singapore, we can bring about new services of higher quality, wider range and at more attractive prices.
Developing the Right Human Resource
Critical to the new info-communication industry's success is human resources. Facilitating the right human resource development with the necessary knowledge will help drive the nation forward to support rapid technological changes and global competition.
Education is widely recognised as a key factor in developing countries. As in the case of Singapore, efforts to reform the education through information technology, started more than a decade ago. It is crucial for our education system to remain relevant with the change of times. To sustain economic growth, we have learnt to combine our skills and education with technology in a concerted effort to make use of IT in the New Age.
Living in the Intelligent Island
To truly see the benefits of an NII, it must be observed from the practical everyday life of a citizen. We see that consumers' benefits come not only in terms of being more informed and efficient but also in the abundance of choice and convenience of their everyday life, for example, shopping, going to the library and many other routine lifestyles that can now be achieved at a mouse click. Consumers should now be able to experience 'Intelligent Living' with Singapore ONE.
Towards Global Information Infrastructure
Many countries in the world are also jumping on to the info-communication wagon to maintain themselves in the front-line of economic success. Over the last decade, Singapore has deliberately prepared itself for the new challenges of the info-communication age.
However, it is pointless and impractical for a small nation to have an NII only for its use domestically. Ultimately, it must seek to be connected and operable with other NIIs, thus forming regional and global information superhighways. Only then will NIIs of smaller countries serve its strategic purpose of facilitating trade and business with other nations.
It is indeed heartening to learn of the many initiatives that are taking place in the different regions and around the world. With the interactive multimedia industry gearing up and taking the coming era by storm, Singapore is happy and proud to be contributing to this development. We are now more than convinced that the vision of intelligent cities and communities will be realised within a decade or much sooner. I invite you to be part of this vision.