SINGAPORE PUSHES NEW TECHNOLOGY
Singapore Advances Standardized Desktop, Wi Max and Broadband
Although a small island nation of 4.5 million people, by some measures, Singapore is the world’s busiest seaport. However, keeping the port competitive in an increasingly global environment has long been a national concern. Just beyond the horizon are Malaysia and Thailand and each is catching up with modernized airports and seaports of their own.
Increased global competition is one reason the Singapore government is determined to make its country a pioneer of advanced technology — in industry, in people’s lives and within the government. In September 2007, the Singapore government announced its latest technology strategy for keeping its port on the cutting edge: - a wireless broadband cloud blanketing territorial waters 9 to 12 miles beyond its southern shore. The government chose Wi Max, a long-range wireless solution that can cover tens of miles of connectivity and is less susceptible to environmental disruption than Wi-Fi. The Wi Max selection as the port’s wireless standard was not without controversy (which is typical in Singapore), however, the push is indicative of the government’s broad IT authority and its ability to implement technologies quickly.
Government Technology Leadership
Singapore government is clearly a leader and not a follower when it comes to technology adoption. If the government becomes dissatisfied with various computing environments in its agencies, it can decree - as it did February 28 - that all agencies (except the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Education which are exempt) to move to a standardized desktop and messaging operating environment by the end of 2010. In launching the Standard Operating Environment (SOE), as the project is called, the government plans to pull the plug on agency-administered local-area networks.
The government agency chartered with advancing IT into all spheres of life in Singapore and charged with implementing SOE is the Infocomm Development Authority. The IDA regulates the information and communications technology industry while simultaneously promoting its growth via subsidy and by consolidating official buying power. “We want to enrich lives with infocomm,” said Geok Leng Tan, IDA’s chief technology officer. IDA’s goal “is to be No. 1 in our ability to harvest infocomm,” he commented.
in addition to governance and policy formulation, IDA is a government-to-government (G2G) liaison as well as the government’s information and communication technology back office, effectively a shared services IT provider. “We have IT shops in 35 agencies,” Pauline Tan, IDA’s G2G operations executive, said in an interview at IDA’s headquarters.
For citizens, IDA has implemented programs to speed consumer adoption of Internet broadband, subsidized the private sector to cover the island nation with 7,200 Wi-Fi hot spots and granted 1,600 online e-government services. Singapore’s small size is partly what makes such efforts accountable and successful. For example, the SOE project affected 60,000 seats. By contrast, the US Marine Corps Intranet effort, a similar project in one U.S. agency, affected more than 700,000 seats.
Singapore’s economy depends on being an efficient and respected regional hub, offering a level of calibrated competence “probably lacking in a lot of other countries in the region,” said Prashent Dhami, a senior consultant at the Singapore branch of consulting firm Frost and Sullivan. The government embraces technology as a means to ensure efficiency and promote the island’s competitiveness, he said. Singapore is a place of relentless modernization and a place where it’s still against the law to chew gum in public.
For IDA, SOE is showcase initiative. By 2010, all civil servants will have the same desktop operating system (Microsoft Vista) and the same messaging service (Microsoft Exchange). They will be linked together on a centrally managed wide-area network that absorbs agency LANs. They will also have standardized video conferencing and shared whiteboard applications with VoIP (voice over IP) running either on an ancillary handset or within the desktop computer. Network data will be backed up in real time and centrally managed.
Government networks already run Multiprotocol Label Switching for network communications and some agencies such as the IDA have already made the switch to VoIP. Next up for VoIP conversion is a group of agencies encompassing about 6,000 seats that get telephone service through a centralized private branch exchange, Pauline Tan said. The network will still mostly run IPv4, though; the equipment will be IPv6-ready, but there’s no timeline for a conversion to native IPv6, she added. The first group of agencies is set to complete translation to SOE by mid-2009, with the target for completion in 2010.
One result of the SOE vision is that Singapore will be heavily loaded with Microsoft products. Officials say they’re not trying to close the door on open-technology standards adoption in the government. “It’s for the industry to propose what they think best meets requirements for the best price,” Pauline Tan said. IDA officials say their approach is technology agnostic - and driven by value, not just price.
Open-source executives say they haven’t been successful penetrating the Singapore market. “Singapore is a very government-centric market,” said Boon Leong Yap, managing director at open-source software maker Resolvo Systems. Resolvo once led a now dormant alliance of open-source companies with an eye to drumming up more IDA business. Open source faces an uphill battle in most of Asia, he said.
Although the government’s front-end systems seem likely to remain proprietary at least through 2016, when the SOE contract expires, Singapore is adopting service-oriented architectures (SOA) for its build-out of e-government services. Agencies building an e-service must use industry standard technologies embedded within the Public Service Infrastructure development framework that specifies Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and Extensible Markup Language (XML). The reusable modules include credit card and debit card payment applications and authentication.
Wi Max Technology
IDA’s offices are close the harbor that is undertaking the ambitious adoption of Wi Max. It hired local telecom company QMax in December 2007 to start blasting the port region with WiMax signals. These signals are officially known as Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers standard 802.16. WiMax is different from Wi-Fi in that its range is longer, its spectrum is licensed, and it is less prone to signal disruption. In 2005, IEEE ratified standards for mobile WiMax, the version QMax uses at the port.
The business purpose is to improve maritime efficiency by instantaneously delivering and receiving data, such as shipping documentation and related navigational information from ships to the port. QMax said connectivity will range from 512 megabits per second to 8 gigabits per second. Subscribers will receive a modem for connectivity and can connect their WiMax connection into a shipboard Wi-Fi connection.
According to Peter Lam, IDA deputy director of finance, tourism, trade and manufacturing, “Singapore waters are very congested.” But with WiMax, he said, “when ships come into Singapore waters, they can be immediately given navigational information, such as which areas to avoid and which areas are congested.” Ships will be able to use the network to request bunkering services, and smaller ships that do the servicing can also be mounted with transponders, Lam added.
Like any modern technology, WiMax is not without its risks. WiMax still isn’t optimized for simultaneous voice and data transmission, said Luke Thomas, Frost and Sullivan’s ICT Europe practice program manager. This first round of WiMax Forum certification doesn’t guarantee interoperability, and competing standards threaten its long-term viability, he added. “We don’t consider this a feasible access technology,” he commented.
Asian Technology Advancements