How 5G will change Singapore’s public services

By Sean Nolan

Interview with Dr Francois Chin, Acting Programme Director for 5G & Beyond, Institute for Infocomm Research (I²R), A*STAR.

Are you a dedicated Star Wars fan? It would take nearly 5 months to download a HD version of Star Wars: The Force Awakens using the 1G connection of the 1980s. The new 5G technology allows the same film to be downloaded in 1.5 seconds, wrote GovTech Singapore.

Healthcare, construction and transport are just a few areas where 5G can make a significant impact in Singapore. The country is developing technology and skills to smoothen the transition from current wireless networks.

Dr Francois Chin, Acting Programme Director for 5G & Beyond, Institute for Infocomm Research (I²R) at A*STAR shares how AI can make a difference in public services and what can be done to enhance its use in the future.

Enhancing public services 

There are many public services that can be enhanced with 5G technology, highlights Chin. He explores four of them.

First is healthcare. Tele-surgery allows doctors to control robotic devices located in clinics overseas, widening access to specialist healthcare. 5G networks provide fast connection speeds, making these real-time procedures possible.

Second, construction works can benefit from 5G, Chin says. The technology will allow drones and robots to survey building sites, creating digital scans of the construction progress.

This is like having a digital twin of the building, Chin says. Agencies can map the progress of a construction project by using drones and robots, rather than relying on labour-intensive manual assessments, he continues.

Third, 5G can help emergency services such as law enforcement. It provides a more reliable connectivity to the increasing number of drones that the police force use. One example is a patrol bot that uses sound and visual sensors to detect suspicious activity, Chin highlights.

Fourth, 5G can reduce traffic congestion. Chin’s team is working on a smart traffic light system which will analyse data sent wirelessly from road junctions. The system will then provide smoother travel by adjusting the flow of traffic, he explains.

Ensuring safe and resilient 5G 

A*STAR is laying the groundwork for these use cases and wider 5G adoption across the nation. The 5G and Beyond programme, led by Chin, is looking at ways to make 5G more secure and reliable once it is adopted in Singapore.

One area the programme is looking at is cybersecurity. Introducing 5G to existing systems “is like opening a door to a new landscape”, and tech is required to make sure this doesn’t lead to security vulnerabilities, Chin says.

Another area is boosting bandwidth and speed of data transfer. Wireless networks use different frequency bands, splitting their capabilities. The programme is looking at whether these bands can be used all at once for 5G, providing larger bandwidth and larger data flow, he explains.

The programme is also developing small, wireless 5G devices that strengthen the network signal, says Chin. This would strengthen the connection with drones for example, reducing the number of network disruptions they may face.

Developing a 5G ready workforce 

With the national adoption of a new technology, there will be knock-on effects. The workforce can expect to have more interactions with robots, AR, and VR. They will also need to be familiar with collecting and understanding big data, he says.
Workers will need to be trained to handle these technologies, Chin shares.

But 5G technology can also help in providing this skills training. 5G allows for digital recording-keeping and real-time data transfers. This can be used for delivering training feedback, much like how video cameras capture the action in football matches for playback, Chin explains.

5G-enabled drones, robots and remote sensors have the potential to redesign public services. But there are wider implications of the 5G rollout, and the Singapore government is preparing the tech infrastructure and workforce for a new generation of connectivity.