After being conducted virtually for two years, ATxSG was held in-person as Singapore’s largest technology event since the reopening of borders. Jointly organized by Infocomm Media Development Authority, Singapore (IMDA) and Informa Tech, the event brought together more than 16,000 hybrid attendees from more than 80 countries, including senior government leaders from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Estonia and Mongolia. Telecom Review Asia Pacific took the opportunity to speak with Kiren Kumar, Deputy Chief Executive (Development), IMDA, to learn about efforts to accelerate Singapore’s digital economy, focused on advancing 5G and ICT development.
Singapore has embarked on 5G. Can you tell us about Singapore’s approach to 5G and steps to advance 5G development in Singapore? How will industries benefit from 5G adoption and how does IMDA facilitate this shift?
The power of 5G is not just about consumers, but enterprise growth and innovations. With IoT and network slicing, the ability of 5G to support various industries by providing dedicated connectivity like a private network, and allowing users to configure massive sets of sensors, opens up huge potential for commercial use cases. In addition, the virtualization and software-driven nature of 5G means it creates opportunities for companies to build enterprise platforms.
Therefore, to realize the potential of 5G, Singapore pushed for an aggressive rollout of 5G networks based on standalone (SA) network specifications, instead of 5G non-standalone specifications first, which was the approach in most other jurisdictions. This allows for the delivery of the full-fledged capabilities and performance of 5G such as network virtualization, intelligence at network edges, and dynamic provisioning of differentiated services for different use cases. The 5G SA networks today already cover at least half of Singapore, which is ahead of schedule, and Singapore is on track for nationwide 5G standalone deployment by 2025.
At the same time, Singapore is also actively seeding lead industry demand. Since 2019, IMDA has been working closely with industry players to experiment with new and innovative 5G solutions in areas such as cloud gaming, advanced manufacturing, port operations and smart cities. For example, IMDA has been partnering with IBM, Samsung and M1 to develop Singapore’s first 5G Industry 4.0 trial. This involves having 5G enabled, AI “Smart Glasses” to help factory operators identify defects in realtime. IBM will deploy this 5G-enabled augmented reality solution, at their global manufacturing sites, starting in New York later in 2022.
We recognize that to enable our 5G efforts, people and R&D are key. IMDA has been supporting Singaporeans to take on these emerging opportunities through training in 5G skills, to bring Singapore into the digital future. We have partnered with our Mobile Network Operators, the National University of Singapore and Singapore Polytechnic to set up a 5G and Telecoms Academy in 2020 to equip professionals with 5G skills. To date, more than 4,000 Singaporeans have already been trained through the academy.
Separately, S$70 million will be invested in future communications technologies such as 6G, specifically in the areas of research, innovation, training of local talent, and international partnerships. As part of our national Future Communications and Research and Development Programme, we have signed an MoU last year with the world’s first and leading 6G research and development program funded by the Academy of Finland. A similar MoU with the Korean Institute of Communications and Information Sciences has been signed.
Spectrum is an important resource to support 5G growth and meet increased connectivity demands in the foreseeable future. How does IMDA carry out spectrum management and policymaking to ensure that spectrum is optimized to drive Singapore’s continued growth in a digitalized era?
In a connected world where there is a constant need for data, faster communications and higher definition media, the demand for spectrum resources continues to outstrip the available supply. To support Singapore’s digital economy and maximize the value of spectrum for economy and welfare of consumers, appropriate and efficient allocation of scarce spectrum resources and forward-looking spectrum planning processes is imperative.
To support future technological developments, IMDA monitors the trends and developments of new wireless technologies and reviews the frequency allocations, to better plan spectrum needs and demands. Moving ahead, it is anticipated that new technology trends, such as the next generation of mobile technology, advancement in the use of unlicensed spectrum e.g., Wi-Fi 6E and increased use of satellite services will continue to transform the ICT industry.
As Singapore is a small and open economy, IMDA formulates its spectrum allocation strategy and plans by aligning with international developments, ensuring harmonization of our national spectrum usage regionally and internationally, and adopting policy positions that maximize our domestic interests.
Can you tell us about partnerships or collaborations to foster enterprise transformation in Singapore to positively impact the economy? What are other initiatives taken to propel SMEs and accelerate digitalization across businesses?
COVID-19 has turbocharged digitization and many businesses now recognize that they can no longer do business in the traditional way. Businesses, including SMEs, see digitalization not just as a necessity for survival but also as an opportunity to reinvent and bring their businesses to the next level.
It can be daunting for SMEs to digitally transform their businesses. This is why the government has put in place support schemes and initiatives to help SMEs digitally transform. To increase baseline adoption, IMDA has rolled out a suite of schemes facilitating SMEs’ adoption of digital utilities, such as e-payments and e-invoicing, at scale with additional support for basic and advanced solutions that address the needs of SMEs in the various sectors and at different maturity levels under the SMEs Go Digital Programme. To date, more than 80,000 enterprises have benefitted from the program, including a quarter of them coming on board in 2021 alone. Three in four firms now adopt at least one digital solution.
To enable every SME to be a digital SME, IMDA has scaled up our efforts so that SMEs have the confidence to use digital technologies to transform their business models and take on new opportunities in the digital age. IMDA’s Chief Technology Officer-as-a-Service (CTO-as-a-Service) enables SMEs to conduct self-assessment of their digital needs via a one-stop platform. It also provides SMEs with quick access to digitalization resources and a shared pool of digital consultants for comprehensive digital advisory and project management services.
For local companies that are more digitally progressive, we have launched the Digital Leaders Programme (DLP) that helps such companies, across all industries, accelerate their digital transformation plans. To do this, the DLP supports companies in building in-house digital capabilities, and integrating digital into their core business strategy so that they can develop innovative business models and capture new growth opportunities.
For companies who want to start innovating, IMDA has a national platform for digital innovation, called the Open Innovation Platform (OIP). Enterprises with business problems can get support to define their problem statement, crowdsource for innovative solutions from tech companies, and be supported across the prototyping process. Since 2018, OIP has facilitated 300 challenges with more than $8.5M in prize monies, powered by a pool of more than 11,000 solution providers. Some companies which took part in challenges on our OIP have gone on to transform their operations and scale these solutions globally.
There is a global ICT talent shortage amid a rapidly-digitalizing landscape. What does IMDA do to address talent shortages to cope with future needs?
The demand for tech talent globally has risen exponentially, largely driven by the growth of the tech sector and broadbased digitalization across industries and companies. Likewise in Singapore, we already see strong demand for tech talent across the entire economy, ranging from software developers and network engineers to cybersecurity and product development specialists. This is not just within the ICT sector, but also in sectors like finance, manufacturing and professional services. To ensure that companies have ready access to globally competitive tech talent, IMDA works closely with enterprises, institutes of higher learning (IHLs) and other stakeholders to maximize our tech talent pipeline and to ensure that Singapore continues to be a vibrant digital economy.
First, we equip graduates from IHLs with the right skills and experiences to be industry-relevant. We train them for areas of current need, as well as in emerging tech areas. For example, on top of established computing programs in our IHLs, we have worked with the Singapore Institute of Technology to create a new Bachelor of Science in Applied Computing with a specialization in FinTech. We are actively working with our IHLs and companies to ensure that Singapore continues to produce competitive deep tech talent and graduates who are well versed in using technology regardless of their specialization.
Second, through the TechSkills Accelerator initiative (TeSA), we have supported over 7,000 companies, comprising local companies and foreign MNCs operating from Singapore, to hire, train and retain their tech team. TeSA collectively bridges companies’ talent needs with a supply of skilled and ready-to-be-skilled talent, and further develops existing employees through support on tech courses and industry-recognized certifications. Since 2016, we have trained over 160,000 Singaporeans and placed more than 12,000 Singaporeans in tech jobs.
Third, together with Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, we have put in place a transparent framework to give businesses better clarity and certainty to facilitate the entry of global talent with in-demand tech-skills. Singapore remains open to global talent to complement the strong Singaporean talent pool to drive new innovations and digitalization of our economy