When the Covid pandemic hit, some workers were at high risk of infection as they were required to be physically present at work. What if there was a way to reduce this need, and to further limit physical contact? With 5G, there might be a way.

At the moment, much of 5G’s potential remains hidden. Many countries have begun trials to determine how it can enhance daily life; Singapore is no exception. Its newly-formed BizTech Group, under the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), will lead the nation’s move to develop AI, privacy-protecting tech and 5G.

Dr Ong Chen Hui, Cluster Director (Biztech Group) at IMDA Singapore, uncovers 5G’s potential to automate and improve efficiency in work, and explores the future of connectivity in Singapore.

Tackling future health crises, and beyond

5G can help reduce the need for physical contact at work, says Ong.

For instance, high shipping volumes throughout the pandemic increased the risk of infection as physical contact was needed for deliveries, cargo inspections, and navigation guidance. 5G allows staff to communicate with videos, fly drones and use video analytics, eliminating the need for physical contact, explains Ong.

Recognising its value, Singapore hopes to become a regional hub for 5G innovation by granting businesses easy access to 5G, says Ong. Industries are already benefiting from early success in trials, with firms such as tech corporation IBM bringing 5G-enabled AR into its New York manufacturing plant, she adds.

In October 2021, the nation established four testbeds for businesses to trial and develop 5G uses in drone deliveries, maritime operations, autonomous vehicles, sustainability, and media production. Singapore has committed SG$30 million to support innovators.

The nation has also trained 3000 citizens with 5G skills, including how to operate and maintain 5G networks, The Straits Times wrote. It aims to train 5000 5G professionals by 2023, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo announced earlier this month.

Improving manufacturing and maritime

Improved efficiency, better communication, and AI applications are all perks of using 5G, says Ong.

For instance, manufacturing workers can now troubleshoot equipment on the factory floor remotely through 5G-enabled AR on their phones, says Ong. Remote trainers or experts can directly annotate areas which require troubleshooting through a video.

5G allows this communication to happen in almost real-time. This allows more complicated processing and maintenance to occur remotely, says Ong. This software was created as part of Singapore’s first 5G Industry 4.0 trial, with IMDA, network and mobile provider M1 Limited, IBM and Samsung.

Riding on the success of this trial, IBM later launched Singapore’s first 5G studio, where businesses can now test 5G-enabled technology including AI, autonomous robots, and AR.

Efficiency has also improved in the maritime sector. In 2019, Singapore’s port services authority, PSA Corporation, worked with IMDA to implement 5G technology at the nation’s most advanced terminal, Pasir Panjang Terminal. The technology was used to support automated vehicles and cranes.

With 5G, crane operators can operate the machines remotely using high-definition video feeds. This can improve productivity and worker safety, says Ong. 5G also reduces disruption to port operators, as its reliable connectivity prevents momentary stoppages.

Additionally, 5G allows the port to keep data localised within the shipyard, as opposed to transferring it to the offices, says Ong. This makes it more secure, she explains.

PSA will be partnering with a mobile operator to extend the 5G network to Tuas Port, which is being developed to become the world’s largest container port.

5G can even improve worker safety at construction sites, adds Ong. Singapore is now testing safety robots, which will roam around the sites and use video analytics to detect safety violations. They can also provide real-time alerts of these violations, she says.

6G already on the way 

With 5G, a new era of work is arriving, but Singapore is already looking towards a future with 6G. “This is an area where long-term investments into research is needed to make an impact,” says Ong.

Compared to augmented reality tools today which use audio and visual cues, 6G can potentially integrate tactile cues through haptic gloves and transmit the sense of touch across the network, says Ong. This may usher in an age of immersive applications, she adds.

6G can bring substantially higher bandwidths of up to 100 times more, and even less delay. It might also be able to better sense where an individual is and map locations, explains Ong.

IMDA, along with the National Research Foundation, is partnering with the Singapore University of Technology and Design and the University of Oulu, Finland, for the development of 6G. This collaboration will see 6G workshops, joint research and educational projects.

With Singapore’s continued push for innovation, the future is now. Soon, 5G applications will be an integral part of our lives. But it’s best not to get too comfortable, for 6G may be hot on its heels.