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Moving Singapore into the 5G radar
SINGAPORE is reputed as the centre of South-east Asia's business and technology. And with good reason - it is widely seen as one of the world's most innovative economies, possesses a highly-skilled talent pool and has a world-class digital infrastructure that lets businesses (especially those within tech) hit the ground running as soon as they are set up.
As it gears up for the next industrial wave and to meet its Smart Nation ambitions, Singapore is underscoring its tech prowess by being one of the first countries in Asia to roll out 5G technologies. And - no matter if it is big or small - Singapore tends to do things with a long-term plan in place, especially when it involves new developments that may profoundly impact its business ecosystem.
But are Singapore's business and consumers ready for 5G, and what would its arrival mean for the enterprises and consumers based here?
A DECADE OF 4G
This December marks the 10th anniversary of 4G's first commercial rollout globally. During the decade, 4G has facilitated the digital evolution of businesses and consumers, edging them closer to more connected lifestyles. Beyond the average person being able to stream higher quality content with minimal lag, 4G has helped business big and small digitalise their operations - from inventory management to payments for merchants. It has also helped ease critical public sector operations such as healthcare and enabled the rollout of more efficient e-government services.
However, it is during the next decade, as the Internet of Things (IoT) grows, that more businesses and consumers will benefit in more meaningful ways. This, then, creates greater demand for more robust and more efficient IT infrastructures. So, while 4G LTE has peak download speeds of 150 to 300 megabits per second, 5G is expected to have a peak download speed of 20 gigabits per second. Plus extremely low latency speeds of four milliseconds (mobile) and even one millisecond (for ultra low latency communication).
What this means for 5G's real-world application is that people will be able to connect with each other and with services more seamlessly. For businesses and governments, they can realistically establish stronger connections between people and machines, vehicles, city infrastructure, etc - and more applications are still being imagined.
Putting Singapore under the 5G radar, this new connectivity will foster an entirely new world of business connectivity. Not only will 5G revolutionise existing business models, it can also enable a variety of new revenue streams - especially for Singapore's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). At the other end, consumers will have better access to more predictable connectivity - ranging from those relying on better connectivity for new forms of content consumption or B2B consumers that may require larger, industrial-scale requirements - due to 5G's more sophisticated connectivity architecture.
Below are some real-world applications in Singapore that can be achieved via 5G:
INDUSTRIAL AND SMALL BUSINESS APPLICATIONS
As Singapore realises its Smart Nation initiatives, more businesses are seeking to boost the productivity and flexibility of their production or provision of services. They want to deliver more personalised offerings to better meet fast-changing consumer demands, which requires higher degrees of automation. For manufacturing-based industries, 5G can facilitate more machine-type communications (MTC), real-time control of machines, robot-human interactions and edge cloud analytics to create "smart factories".
Another key area of industry will be around the harbour, which is particularly important with the Port of Singapore's status as the world's leading bunkering port. 5G can help foster the creation of "connected ports", one where humans can interact with and share real-time information with devices and machines. For instance, with lower latency, loading and unloading operations can be made more efficient via the automated remote control of unmanned ground vehicles. Not only can this help streamline operations at ports to reduce harbouring times, it can reduce the risk of human injuries and fatalities when carrying out such operations.
Meanwhile, SMEs can benefit from 5G by improving the efficiency of back-end operations by leveraging more sophisticated cloud computing for network-related tasks. On the front-end, 5G will help staff better respond to customer queries, namely via communicating with workers through remote access software more efficiently. The 5G speed will be crucial for these small businesses to operate with higher productivity and survive and thrive in Singapore's highly-competitive business environment.
One of the most obvious consumer benefits from 5G will be much faster broadband speeds for content consumption. With the rise of online streaming services, more people are turning parts of their homes into home entertainment systems, especially since more 4K (and soon 8K) content will be made readily available by streaming services. 5G will help to ensure that the viewing experience will be smooth and lag-free.
Additionally, 5G developments have coincided with the rise of virtual reality technology. As such, 5G will make it more realistic for people to virtually participate in a live music or sports event, as the ultra-fast broadband speeds can better ensure that the consumer stays connected and engaged with the event.
Gaming is another space 5G connectivity will transform. Singapore alone has more than 1.4 million gamers, with an estimated total market value of over US$100 million. This market is set to grow as competition heats up within the competitive esports sector. This is where lower latency is vital to a competitor's performance, and to the fans who follow the gamers during live online streams. Outside of competitions, 5G can also raise the at-home experience of casual gamers, especially as industry leaders such as PlayStation are going the subscription-based route of Spotify and Netflix. Until now, however, not everyone has been convinced that cloud gaming would raise the experience due to latency and lag concerns - both of which 5G is well able to address.
In November last year, Nokia and StarHub worked together to complete the city-state's first outdoor pilot of 5G New Radio (NR) on the 3.5GHz frequency band. We did this essentially to test its application for businesses and consumers.
On one hand, we managed to demonstrate its use for a sector that has been typically hard to digitalise: manufacturing. Specifically, it was to show how businesses can use 5G-enabled video analytics to improve efficiency and cut down on production errors. These efficiencies can be applied to many forms of industrial facilities such as factories and power plants. This may, to some degree, help circumvent the limitations of Singapore's geography, especially when it comes to industrial space.
The other use case demonstrated was, arguably, a bit more novel: how sports fans can use 5G-enabled VR headsets to have immersive video experience at a live sports event, making them feel like they are there in person.
The reception of 5G technologies has been highly positive, especially in developing commercial applications. For instance, Singapore Polytechnic has set up a facility to co-develop 5G technologies that can be applied to various sectors such as transportation and healthcare. What's even better is that this testbed of innovations will comprise mostly students, which bodes well for the potential in Singapore's next generation to create new and transformative solutions.
Singapore is primed to successfully implement 5G technologies as it has already created an ecosystem that supports transformative innovation. For instance, Singapore's Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) is encouraging 5G implementation by waiving frequency fees for interested companies, as the government hopes to achieve wider industrial applications for 5G in real-world environments.
With the first global commercial release of 5G on the horizon, Singapore is showing that it is ready to enter the next phase of the economy, one that is set to be more digitalised and connected than ever before. What's more, given Singapore's regional leadership status, its successful 5G rollout will help create ripple effects in more countries seeking to ramp up their digitalisation initiatives.
- The writer is is head of 5G sales, Asia-Pacific and Japan, at Nokia.