Will Singapore be able to successfully leverage its high-tech capability to compensate for a higher paid and better-educated workforce than China and India‾
That's really the looming question behind Singapore's recent decision to spend the next ten years (and several billion dollars) wiring the entire city-state under its Intelligent Nation 2015 (iN2015) initiative.
The plan, drafted in close consultation with the private and public sectors, is expected to create 80,000 new IT and telecom jobs and triple the amount of infocomm export revenue to almost $40 billion by 2015. Much of the work will be done by local service providers and systems integrators. Nine firms, including Singtel, StarHub and M1, have already placed bids to rollout the wireless services that form the first phase of the ambitious plan, according to executives with the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA).
Some 33 companies contributed ideas on how best to build the next-gen network that is the centerpiece of the plan. An RFP due later this year will invite the private sector to build, own and operate the network through a public-private partnership. Officials expect the next-gen network to be completed in six years, with high-tech applications rolling out over it during the remaining four years.
'The capacity to innovate and create new business models, solutions and services will enable Singapore to be more competitive in a globalized environment,' explained Dr. Lee Boon Yang, the country's Minister of Information, in announcing the program. 'iN2015 will set us on the path to becoming a global leader in harnessing infocomm to add value to the economy and society.'
He added that officials expect that in a decade 90% of all the nation's homes (and 100% of homes with schoolchildren) will have high-speed broadband access. The network will be used for digital learning, video conferencing, HD-IPTV and even tele-medical applications.
It's a complicated national planning effort that officials say is designed to move the nation beyond basic computing skills like coding (which can be done less expensively in China, India and other Asian nations) to more sophisticated skills like project management.
'Our industry planning involves all of Southeast Asia, not just China,' said Simon Lim, deputy director of infocomms and media for the Economic Development Board. 'This is all about how Singapore companies can engage the region.'
Essentially, Singapore hopes the national plan will catapult the country ahead of low-cost rivals like China and India, as well as current high-tech rivals such as Japan and South Korea. The expectation is that services and solutions developed for the network can be modified and marketed throughout the region.
One example is e-government solutions, which Singapore has worked on for 25 years.
'We have also received many requests for Singapore to share our experience and help other government implement e-government [solutions],' Dr. Yang said. The government is establishing later this year a leadership center to monitor developments in the area and deliver new applications.
It could be the first test of whether Singapore's high-tech vision is likely to be fulfilled.