S’pore to invest up to S$100mil to upgrade Nationwide Broadband Network to deliver 10Gbps speed


Minister for Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo said the upgrade is in anticipation of data-intensive tools such as AI and virtual reality. - ST

SINGAPORE: The promise of widely available household Internet speeds 10 times faster than current ones is closer to becoming a reality, with up to S$100 million being earmarked for a national network upgrade.

The upgrade is in anticipation of data-intensive tools such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality and smart-home applications, which will require greater speeds to support, said Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo on Feb 21.

The $100 million investment by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) will be channelled to upgrade the back-end network and user equipment up from mid-2024 to 2026 to allow residential broadband services to deliver connection speeds of up to 10Gbps.

The upgrading marks a next step in Singapore’s Nationwide Broadband Network, commercially launched in 2010 with a $1 billion investment from the Government. The network, which can already support speeds of 10Gbps, reached more than 95 per cent of homes and businesses in Singapore in 2013 – a first in the world.

It is not known what the exact use cases are for connectivity speeds of up to 10Gbps, but it is necessary to ensure that Singapore is equipped when the technology arrives, said Teo.

“Digital infrastructure takes time to build up and doesn’t happen overnight. Many of the ways digital developments will change the way we work and live are not entirely known in advance,” she said.

“Even if we do not know the specific use cases that you and I will be interested to take up, it is quite clear that the future will involve more immersive digital experiences, it will involve additional smart devices, autonomous devices (and) AI... We have to try and make a best effort to understand what the trends are going to be and make sure our infrastructure is future-proof.”

The announcement to invest $100 million comes after Deputy Prime Minster Lawrence Wong announced plans to upgrade the Nationwide Broadband Network when he delivered Singapore’s 2024 Budget statement on Feb 16.

The faster speeds are projected to arrive at more than half a million households that are expected to sign up through telcos to receive these higher-speed services by 2028.

Broadband plans with surfing speeds of at least 1Gbps are the current standard for around 85 per cent of households here. Actual speeds for each home depend on the number of users in an area, and other factors such as throttling by Internet service providers to prevent network hogging by a small number of users.

Internet metrics company Ookla reported that the average download and upload speed in Singapore is close to 300Mbps.

Plans for a 10Gbps home broadband network were first outlined in the Digital Connectivity Blueprint in 2022, which laid out plans to bolster Singapore’s digital capacity in the coming years so that it remains competitive.

It includes doubling subsea cable landings in Singapore over the next decade in a bid to increase digital trade here.

The decision to upgrade echoes back to Singapore’s call to develop the Nationwide Broadband Network – first announced in 2008 – when there was feedback that people did not need 1Gbps speeds and were content with 30Mbps, said Teo.

A spokeswoman for IMDA said on Feb 21 that the pricing model and tiering of speeds will be left to the market, adding that such changes are not likely to happen abruptly.

She said: “They have to be transparent in the way they offer services. Not only do (telcos) need to market the theoretical speed, they have to (indicate) the typical speeds that the user will experience.”

The spokeswoman added: “We will do our checks to make sure that (telcos) do deliver what the typical user (can expect) but we will not mandate it as a regulation.”

Broadband bundles with 10Gbps speeds have been rolled out by early adopters in the telco space. For instance, Singtel offers a 10Gbps Enhanced Plan for $86 a month and StarHub offers the UltraSpeed 10Gbps plan for $69.95 a month, each with their own incentives.

These plans typically come with high-performance routers capable of 10Gbps speeds.

Offerings in the market today are still “nascent”, said the IMDA spokesman, adding: “The price points are at the point where I think early adopters, tech-savvy ones would be interested, but maybe not the best.”

Sam Fenwick, who is the principal analyst for connectivity analytics company Opensignal, said that it could be some time before technology that can fully utilise speeds of 10Gbps becomes mainstream.

Most users today are unlikely to require massive speeds unless they deal with high-definition video or large graphical assets, or download lots of heavy files, said Fenwick.

He said: “Developers typically work to produce applications that require technical parameters that are fairly easy to achieve with technology that’s currently in widespread use.

“This means that Singaporeans may have to wait for much of the rest of the world to catch up before new applications that require 10Gbps connections come along.” - The Straits Times/ANN

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