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Singtel, Ericsson unveil 5G pilot network trials for drones, self-driving cars in one-north district

SINGTEL and Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson have announced plans for a 5G pilot network in Singapore's science district of one-north, to test drone and autonomous vehicle services.

The network will be launched by Q4 2018, Singtel group chief technology officer Mark Chong said at a technology demonstration for industry and media on Monday.

Referring to the one-north trials, he said: "The location is in line with the government's initiative to designate one-north as a test bed for autonomous vehicles and unmanned aircraft systems. For a start, we plan to conduct a drone trial on the pilot network to showcase network slicing capability."

5G refers to the next generation of mobile technology, which promises significantly faster wireless speeds. The pilot network follows the establishment of Singtel and Ericsson's joint Centre of Excellence, which was set up in late 2017 with an initial investment of S$2 million over three years.

Funding for the pilot network will come out of that kitty, Mr Chong told The Business Times on the sidelines of the launch event. Further details on the testing timetable will be given at a later date.

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Raymond Soh, Ericsson head of network solutions for Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines, told media: "We plan to test some drone-flying with connected networks, that's the first thing we're going to do. Then we'll look at how autonomous vehicles can benefit from 5G, so it's a longer-term exploration."

Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) deputy chief executive Aileen Chia said in a media statement that the pilot "is an encouraging step towards commercialisation with live 5G trial networks made possible with the regulatory sandbox IMDA has in place".

Since 2017, IMDA has been waiving frequency fees in selected frequency spectrum bands for 5G trials, to lower regulatory barriers and encourage industry testing of real-world technology applications. The waiver lasts until end-2019, with the option for an extension.

Ms Chia, who is also director-general for telecoms and post, added: "IMDA will continue to work closely with mobile service providers such as Singtel in their journey to build communication capabilities of the future and complement Singapore's efforts towards a vibrant digital economy."

Singapore's two other listed telcos have also announced 5G trials of their own, with M1 and Huawei saying last month that their plans include a South-east Asia field trial by end-2018 and another in mid-2019.

Meanwhile, StarHub chief technology officer Chong Siew Loong said in a statement sent to media on Monday: "We have been conducting 5G trials since 2016 to explore useful solutions especially for businesses and public agencies in the next wave of industrial digitalisation and automation.

"To facilitate real-world trials, we will be switching on 5G base stations on our network by the end of the year. These 'live' trials will cover robotics and smart logistics, among others."

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