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By Clement Goh, MD, Equinix, South Asia
The 2017 Singapore National Day Rally speech, an annual policy address to Singaporeans by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, took place earlier this month. In his speech, Singapore is said to have a “natural advantage” to become a Smart Nation. The Internet coverage is wide, with fast connection speeds and high connectivity, the population is digitally literate, and the education system is focused on nurturing technology experts.
Indeed, Singapore has all the right conditions in place and is en-route to becoming a Smart Nation by integrating all aspects of technology into a coherent and cohesive whole to improve the way we live, work and play. While the speech brought up topics such as a national security sensor and network, enhancing electronic payment systems, and the use of IT to support the aging population, all these would not have been possible if not for one main underlying ingredient – Interconnection.
According to the Global Interconnection Index, published by Equinix that provides the industry’s first, annual global baseline to track, measure, and forecast the growth of Interconnection, Singapore is expected to continue to be the top metro in terms of Interconnection Bandwidth. With an anticipated Interconnection Bandwidth of 256 Tbps by 2020, Singapore is expected to take the lead in the region amongst other key cities, including Hong Kong, Japan, Tokyo, and Sydney.
High Interconnection proliferation is a reflection that local enterprises in Singapore are now more connected to each other and service providers than ever. As Singapore looks at a growth in its Interconnection Bandwidth in the next few years, it is not only the government who needs to pay attention to better platforms or technologies to integrate services for the country. Third party organizations, industry and business leaders, private sectors, and anyone who has the ability to contribute to a Smart Nation will come together to form collaborative communities to work together and consolidate mandates in order to operate more efficiently, more securely, and more cost effectively.
An Interconnected Nationwide Sensor Platform
One of the initiatives brought up during the speech was the development of a Smart Nation Sensor Platform, where insights gained in real-time from data collected will be used to support public service operations, including urban planning, security, and incident response and maintenance of public spaces.
There are also plans to turn lamp posts into ‘smart’ lamp posts that can carry and transmit data and information gathered from surveillance cameras and sensors around the island.
For data to be collected and analyzed in real-time from surveillance cameras and sensors nationwide, there is a need for interconnection because these devices do not have the on-board computing capacity to do it on its own. The backend processing will involve a mashup of data between various sources, applications and things in the Internet of Everything. As the information streams back and forth, a foundation for security needs to be put in place from the very beginning to ensure that important information is exchanged within safe infrastructures. A secure foundation will allow combined inputs from various sources—from the police, Land Transport Authority, hotels and commercial buildings and even mobile phones—and maximize and optimize the protection of the national sensor network from the inside out.
Digital Payment Within an Ecosystem
Another issue raised during the speech was that Singapore is lagging behind other countries in terms of electronic payments and that the digital payment ecosystem locally remains highly fragmented. In order to have successful e-payment systems that integrate all other schemes and procedures, Singapore needs to harness the flexibility and agility of proximate, direct Interconnection to deliver fast and secure real-time transactions. A single e-payment system takes a host of partners from disparate ecosystems (i.e. financial, mobile, retail, advertising) all working in concert for payment to be as seamless and safe as consumers expect.
A simple task such as buying a movie ticket will too require a community of service providers working together instantly and seamlessly. Direct and secure Interconnection between the multiple parties involved is essential for high-performance transactions, customer satisfaction, and electronic payment growth. As of now, electronic payments are generally used in two ways: 1) for in-store purchases at a payments terminal, where account information is transmitted from the phone to the retailer via near-field communication; 2) for online purchases at online stores or within apps.
In either case, collaboration and partnership amongst banks, government authorities, industry experts, and merchants will be the norm. By combining new ideas and services developed within the industry, with the stability and access to large customer base, payment networks, innovation and Interconnectivity, Singapore is almost there to fulfill its vision of having a unified, high-performing, safe and reliable electronic payment system.
Some of the initial efforts of improving e-payments in Singapore include a new service known as PayNow. This service enables customers of seven banks in Singapore to transfer funds from one bank to another using just a mobile number or identification number, instead of having to remember bank account numbers. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and banks are also working with industry partners on simplifying digital payments at merchants through the deployment of unified point-of-sales (UPOS) terminals.
In conclusion, Singapore’s push to becoming a Smart Nation will continue to drive the need for connected ecosystems as government agencies and third parties invest in data and infrastructure insights in the upcoming years. We know that becoming a Smart Nation takes time because traditional IT infrastructures were built for a different time in government history and they are in conflict with many of the core requirements of modern day computing. However, the speed and difficulty of this journey depend on the combined efforts of everyone within the digital economy and their ability to leverage disruptive technologies. By collaborating in an interconnected cloud ecosystem, we are more than half way to becoming a truly Smart Nation.