When you compare a city-nation like Singapore to the United States, there are a number of differences, but one is fairly obvious: size. Singapore’s population of 5.8 million is roughly equivalent to that of Wisconsin. The total land area (278 square miles) is about the size of Lexington, Kentucky. In addition, Singapore has an inherent lack of natural resources. These two factors are very real constraints.
So, how is Singapore one of the top regions in the world for smart cities? It turns out that perceived shortcomings have given Singapore no choice but to embrace creativity and innovation. Since becoming independent in 1965, Singapore has focused on being a gateway between the East and the West enabled by technology. They have turned their weaknesses into formidable strengths.
Singapore is unapologetically investing in the future in order to power their digital economy. They understand the importance of data and know that success means creating a solid infrastructure that is flexible enough to accommodate technologies that have not yet been invented. They accept that this era requires us all to live in a constant state of disruption and redefinition.
System-Wide Sensors Enable Better City Service Delivery
An example of this in action is a nationwide sensor network called the Smart Nation Sensor Platform (SNSP). The goal of the project is to gather information and encourage collaboration across departments in order to uncover insights that can be used to optimize city service delivery.
Deploying sensors, collecting and sharing data is not a unique practice. Cities across the US and around the world are doing this everyday. But what makes Singapore special is that they are working across government agencies to build a common data infrastructure. By coming together, leaders can be smarter about how they use their resources so that they can better improve the lives of citizens and build stronger communities.
This network will include a data sharing gateway, video and data analytics capabilities. Currently in Phase 1, GovTech has deployed Closed Circuit Televisions (CCTVs), environmental sensors and connectivity infrastructure in several areas. Next steps include expanding to the nation’s lamppost infrastructure with the ultimate goal of a shared network for wired and wireless sensors. There are also plans to expand video camera capture and analytics sharing through a common platform. Some of the expected benefits include safer transportation and emergency response systems as well as water and energy monitoring and usage.
Massive Amounts of Data Requires Infrastructure
Data is the new oil, and both require big fat pipes. Singapore knows this well and is preparing the digital infrastructure to handle the increased flow from the SNSP. Mr. Khoong Hock Yun, Assistant Chief Executive Officer (Development) Infocommunications and Media Development Authority (IMDA) is overseeing this deployment.
Mr. Khoong led the first-of-its-kind Nationwide Broadband Network (NBN) initiative, which was a world leading nationwide “fiber-to-the-home” program. By 2012, less than three years from the state of roll out, NBN achieved 95% nationwide coverage. True it’s a relatively small geographical area but there are still many other factors that can thwart progress, all of which Singaporean leadership was able to overcome.
Singapore’s regulatory environment encourages a highly competitive broadband market. Some may assume that the close relationship between government and industry may stifle the market but in fact it is quite the opposite. More than 11 operating companies and 29 retail service providers are in the region, achieving 80% household adoption in 2016. Wireless@SG, another of Mr. Khoong’s initiatives is the world’s largest authenticated, federated and nation-wide free WiFi service.
What We Can Learn
The world would be wise to take notes from Singapore’s approach. Instead of government hamstringing and hindering the deployment of technology, the opposite occurs. Public sector leaders create and communicate a vision as well as a pathway for success. They encourage competition to enable the greatest levels of Internet capability possible. Singapore believes that the public and private sectors have important and complementary roles to play.
When you see this kind of commitment, it puts all other approaches into question. Why aren’t other governments doing everything they can to encourage and invest in connectivity and data collection? Once this critical infrastructure is laid, the innovation is limitless. The idea of hampering broadband, mobile and wifi capacity seems irrational when it is viewed from the angle of those who are enjoying the rewards of this kind of forward thinking. But then again, when your entire economic survival depends on it, it’s wise to not let anything stand in the way of progress. It’s simply survival.
The world is changing and every assumption about what constitutes assumed #1 status can be questioned. Being the largest landmass with a booming population may not always be the advantage it once was. Private sector companies are being rewarded in the marketplace for being nimble, innovative and agile. Perhaps it is past time for governments large and small to take note as well.