How 5G boosts smart factories, smart cities and smart citizens

Singapore, Samsung and IBM envision countrywide, enterprise-level 5G connectivity

By | 4 minute read | September 15, 2020

Enterprise-level 5G could transform numerous industries in Singapore.

5G has swelled in popularity over the past year, thanks in part to a new generation of mobile networks and phones.

Yet in the factories and streets of Singapore, an even bigger wave is coming.

There, it quickly becomes apparent that the opportunities for enterprise-level 5G are equal or greater than those in the consumer space, as Tan Kiat How, CEO* of IMDA, Singapore’s telecom and media investment agency, explained at Think 2020.

Just as Singapore brought high-speed fiber connections to almost every home over the past decade, the government has set out to cover half the country with 5G connections by 2022. It aims to reach full 5G coverage by 2025, bringing new levels of connectivity to work and life.

Tech and economic investments like these have helped the 19th smallest nation on Earth maintain a longstanding place among the top 10 in GDP.

With its new 5G network, Singapore hopes to bolster a number of national priorities:

Smart factories where edge computing and AI will drive economic growth, jobs and safety through myriad Industry 4.0 uses.

Smart streets where IoT sensors and vast data enable new forms of mobility, emergency services and environmental monitoring.

Smart commerce where supply chains, ports, offices and retail outlets are seamlessly connected, allowing the easy flow of goods and ideas.

Smart citizens who can work, play and connect from anywhere, including at home or out and about, boosting productivity and resiliency.

Everything’s connected

When combined with edge computing, 5G can turbocharge manufacturing.

5G’s potential may still be theoretical in many places—which is why an ambitious plan for full coverage is so important. Just as few could have predicted the rise of the app, sharing, gaming and virtual economies made possible by 4G, the innovations of 5G stand to be just as unexpected and impactful, if not more so.

What is indisputable is how reliable, affordable, cloud-enabled networks will be essential to launch 5G enterprises. Singapore is banking on just such possibilities to continue its international economic success.

“We believe 5G is an important innovation infrastructure for the state economy,” IMDA’s Tan said. “A vibrant, dynamic, 5G innovation ecosystem drives business transformation and enables exciting new applications. This will unlock new value for industries, as well as create new jobs for workers.”

Leading the way is a partnership between Samsung, Singaporean telco M1 and IBM. At Think 2020, IMDA announced this trifecta had been awarded a slice of 5G spectrum, which they would use to start testing different industrial applications.

This work covers a range of possibilities. Workers and machines will begin exploring enhanced visual recognition, acoustic insights and augmented reality system built on AI-and-edge-enabled platforms. Without the power of cloud-supported, ultra-reliable and low latency 5G networks, these operations would be difficult if not impossible to execute.

IBM’s Nick Otto highlighted just a few of the advantages: “How do we maximize productivity; reduce defects; and ensure what we’re driving and how we’re driving it is the most productive possible?”

A new economic reality

Singapore’s enterprise 5G partnership with IBM, Samsung and M1 is among the first of its kind.

While many 5G opportunities are still being dreamt up—in Singaporean facilities and around the world—augmented reality is a compelling example that the IBM and Samsung team showcased at Think.

In one instance, showcasing peer guidance, a line technician can share their workspace via a mobile video feed with an expert, who can annotate parts or issues on their screen. The techniciasn then sees these annotations in their space in real time.

In another case, demonstrating self-guidance options, machine parts are catalogued by the team on an ongoing basis, creating a constantly evolving and updated view of operations, workflows and issues.

“We believe the promise, the true value of 5G, is to deliver on what we call experience innovation,” Samsung’s Edward Choi said. “Experience innovation requires more than just devices and new features. It’s complete integration of hardware, software and services, leveraging cloud, edge computing, AI and other technology.”

Singapore is launching a $40 million challenge grant to boost 5G investments, of which the Samsung, M1 and IBM partnership is a part. Such endeavors will prove worthwhile for the everyday and in extraordinary times.

Tan Kiat How pointed out how Singapore’s fiberoptic investments have made a dramatic difference in his nation’s ability to persevere with life, work and education during COVID-19.

“The ongoing COVID-19 situation has reinforced the importance of a resilient and robust digitally connected infrastructure,” Tan said. “It enables a smooth functioning of essential services, like healthcare and banking. It enables businesses and workers to continue essential commercial functions from home. And it helped all segments of our community to remain connected with one another.”

*Tan Kiat How left IMDA in June, a month after his presentation at Think 2020.