|Country Building with Leading Edge Technology
|His Excellency Dr Lee Boon Yang
|Ministry of Information, Communications and Arts (MITA)
Singapore, more than most countries has staked its future on leading-edge technologies. Its government aggressively promotes the development and use of technology and has outlined one of the world’s most comprehensive industrial and technological policies to guide the country’s development. The use of advanced ICTs in Singapore’s households is one of the world’s highest as is its 79% broadband cellular penetration. Singapore’s Infocomm Technology Roadmap identifies emerging technologies, such as Ultra Wideband Technology, that are strategic for Singapore’s infocomm industry.
Singapore has long recognised the potential in the use and application of infocomm technologies. This has prompted strategic moves to reposition Singapore in the infocomm world. Following the full liberalisation of its telecoms sector in April 2000, Singapore saw more than 200 telecoms licences issued or expanded and over S$3 billion in additional investments. International direct dialling (IDD) and voice-over IP rates have dropped by at least 60%, producing minimum cost savings of S$78.9 million a month. There is a 21 Tbps (terra bits per second) submarine cable capacity linking Singapore to all of Asia, US, Europe and Middle East, with more than 90 Mbps connectivity, each, to key regional markets such as Japan, China, India, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Australia, and 1 Gbps connectivity to the US. In the World Economic Forum’s 2002 survey of 75 countries, WEF rated Singapore as the nation with the most-wired government and the one most effective in promoting the use of IT among its citizens. The use of infocomm technologies in Singapore households ranks among the highest in the world, with at least one computer in 69% of Singapore homes, 60% internet penetration in households, and a growing broadband penetration which stands at 24 % currently. Mobile penetration rates are above 79%, with easy access to colour-screen mobile phones, hands-free Bluetooth and always-on GPRS technologies for instant data downloads on the go. The infocomm sector is one of the fastest moving industries in the world. In keeping with global developments, and in its continued efforts to remain highly competitive, Singapore will ensure that its local and international policies and initiatives, regulatory framework, and support for technology development and application remain relevant and effective. On the homefront Singapore focuses on pro-business policies, a strong regulatory framework and regime that work to develop a healthy, competitive and sustainable infocomm market. The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), the regulator and promoter for the Singapore infocomm industry, assesses policy, regulatory and developmental issues, and strives to improve the telecom regulatory regime. At the same time, the IDA studies market practices to ensure that the policy of a competitive telecomm market is realised. The ultimate objective is to promote market forces and to benefit consumers. With the telecom sector fully liberalised, Singapore places preference on market forces over regulation. This is established in Singapore’s Code of Practice for Competition in the Provision of Telecom Services (Telecom Competition Code), internationally recognised as one of the most comprehensive regulatory doctrines. The Code provides a clear and coherent regulatory framework that prevents anti-competitive and unfair practices, facilitates rapid entry of competition into Singapore, and provides incentives for continued investment in the telecom infrastructure, while allowing services-based competition. At the telecom operators level, private commercial negotiations and industry self-regulation are encouraged, where possible. Regulatory intervention applies in market segments that are not yet competitive, or where the dominant operator’s market behaviour is not constrained by competitive forces. In these segments, regulation is inversely proportionate to market competition, and the use of regulation is no more than necessary to achieve regulatory goals. One area, in which IDA has intervened to benefit the market and consumers, is interconnection between the incumbent and new entrants. The incumbent is required to produce a Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO) that stipulates prices, terms and conditions under which the incumbent must offer interconnection to other telecom licensees. The RIO, available since Jan 2001, has shortened the interconnect negotiation process for new entrants, and ensured the adoption of just, reasonable and non-discriminating agreements with the incumbent. Recent policy measures implemented to encourage competition in the mobile market and increase consumer benefits include requirements for short-messaging service (SMS) portability and reduced service fees for mobile number portability. On the international front In recent years, Singapore has experienced strong growth as an infocomm centre. While part of this success came from the domestic developments in Singapore, regional and international progress and developments are also important contributing factors. International cooperation and the development of liberal trade links through instruments like Free Trade Agreements (FTA) bring further growth opportunities to Singapore, reduce barriers to trade, and encourage global and regional collaborations in the regulatory and developmental space. Over the past 3 years, Singapore has concluded FTAs with several of its key trade partners. Negotiations with the US and Australia have been completed, and FTAs currently in effect include those with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) States, Japan, New Zealand, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Singapore has also embarked on FTA negotiations with Canada, Asean-China, India and Korea. Immediate benefits for Singapore’s infocomm sector include the elimination of tariffs on infocomm products, cheaper and streamlined processes for the testing of telecom equipment, enhanced protection for intellectual property, fair and transparent treatment for companies in such areas as government procurement and access to foreign telecommunication networks. In the long term, these agreements will enhance the competitiveness, vibrancy and long-term prospects of Singapore’s infocomm sector. Singapore is also working with like-minded countries at forums like the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the WTO, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and ASEAN to promote the growth of e-commerce and a global infocomm environment that is pro-competition, transparent and technology neutral. Such inter-country cooperation will support continued flow and development of infocomm services, globally and regionally. On the technology front Another key area of focus is the identification of emerging leading-edge technologies that are strategic to Singapore’s developments, and associated initiatives that facilitate the adoption of these technologies in Singapore. The early adoption and application of such technologies will provide Singapore with an added competitive edge in future business and economic opportunities. IDA’s Infocomm Technology Roadmap (ITR) programme is one of Singapore’s key vehicles for communicating global macro-infocomm technology trends, and the identified strategic technologies for Singapore’s infocomm industry. One of the identified emerging technologies with strategic impact is Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology. UWB promises much higher data rates than those possible with current wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth and Wireless LANs. At the same time, UWB devices require lower power and are cheaper to manufacture. IDA launched its UWB Programme in February 2003, to establish the limits of UWB co-existence with current radio-communication systems, and to seed the formation of a UWB eco-system in Singapore. An area around a cluster of R&D facilities in Singapore has been designated as the UWB Friendly Zone (UFZ). Several companies have begun experimentation with UWB in this location. Research links with European and US companies are being forged. IDA intends to submit its co-existence findings to international radio spectrum management organisations with the view to harmonise radio standards and regulations in this nascent technology. Other technologies that have been identified as strategic include Web Services, Java and Next Generation Wireless LANs. Associated initiatives to promote and develop these technologies have been created and implemented. We have some successes from these initiatives, such as the joint project with Intel to prototype a vendor-neutral reference architecture that is based on open standards to permit wireless LAN hotspots, cellular and broadband roaming, as well as inter-operability across multi-operators and multiple countries. Conclusion Singapore is committed to creating an infocomm business friendly environment through the pursuit of an open economy with transparent regulations backed up by proactive technology adoption and application. Today, more than 6,000 multinational companies call Singapore their home, enjoying level-playing opportunities, forming partnerships with local and global businesses. Singapore is committed to continuing this balanced approach, going forward so as to develop its infocomm sector into a major engine of economic growth for the country.