Singapore is launching 5G trials for factories this year, at a time when much of global production has come to a halt.

“Amidst the uncertainties of Covid-19, Singapore is forging ahead with our 5G plans,” Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) CEO Tan Kiat How said. “In Singapore, we believe in continual and timely investment of our connectivity infrastructure.

The pandemic has reinforced the need for strong digital infrastructure, allowing essential services like banking and hospitals to continue running safely, he added.

IMDA is teaming up with IBM and Samsung to run the smart factory trials. It will look at three use cases in manufacturing: using AI image recognition and video analytics for automated inspections; improving equipment maintenance and monitoring by analysing acoustics with AI; and using augmented reality to improve productivity and quality on the assembly line.

Singapore has awarded two 5G licences for nationwide networks. The government has chosen to go with “standalone” networks which have more advanced capabilities, greater reliability, and support data-heavy applications.

“We are committed to deploy at least two nationwide networks in Singapore. These networks will provide coverage to at least 50 per cent of Singapore by end 2022 and nationwide coverage by 2025,” Tan said.

“These networks provide full fledged 5G capabilities to support businesses, enterprises, and all consumers. And beyond just being a connectivity infrastructure, we believe that these 5G networks are an important innovation infrastructure for our digital economy,” he added.

Successful results from this trial could be rolled out in factories across a broad range of industries. “We hope that there will be many innovative use cases that can be scaled up in Singapore as well as to the rest of the world, in IBM’s factories and of those of their clients,” Tan added.

IBM will run the trials in its Singapore-based lab, while Samsung will provide mobile and network technologies and M1 will be the telco provider for 5G. “We want to complement Singapore’s Smart Nation and Digital Economy efforts and empower enterprises and industry players with a robust and versatile 5G launch-pad through this trial,” IBM Singapore’s Managing Director Martin Chee said.

A S$40 million (US$30 million) fund has been set up to test applications in ports, transport, estates, factories, government and consumer applications. Part of this funding will also go into R&D to secure 5G networks which will form a crucial part of the country’s digital infrastructure in the future.