As Singapore goes all in on 5G, the possibilities could be limitless
A telco alliance and the biggest telco in Singapore is set to create a city-wide 5G network for the first time. We explore the potential benefits coming to the city, and how they might improve the work and lives of marketers in Singapore and beyond.
While the news was likely buried beneath coronavirus across the globe, one development may go some way to ensuring that, when Singapore emerges from its lockdown, its status as a business and technology hotspot will have been elevated even further.
Late last month (29 April) Singapore's Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) awarded Singtel and a joint venture between telcos StarHub and M1 the rights to operate 5G networks across the city-state.
Those behind the prospective network hope that 5G will support local businesses and advances in the city’s infrastructure. In particular, increased connectivity promises to help realise the full potential of Internet of Things technologies (IoT) and advance Singapore's credentials as a ‘smart city‘.
Research from World Economic Forum has found that “significant economic and social value” can arise from the widespread deployment of 5G networks, with 5G “enabling sustainable cities and communities." Besides the economic impact, there are also potential social benefits.
Alex Woodford, vice-president, client partner for Asia Pacific at Essence, tells The Drum: “This is an exciting development for both businesses and consumers in Singapore. While 5G networks may not be rolled out island-wide from the very beginning, consumers and businesses within coverage will be able to take advantage of huge data flow and connectivity gains.
“For consumers, this means faster and richer online experiences across all their mobile devices. And for businesses, this means the ability for smarter manufacturing, processing and automation to drive significant growth within the economy and beyond.”
He adds: “With the right hardware, 5G could be like adding rocket fuel to business growth – faster, more efficient and more complex production and processing available to almost all businesses from industrial to service sectors. The data will create if managed and used properly can then transform business growth, creating a virtuous circle for the economy.”
Lishan Lim, client partner at Universal McCann Singapore believes the move from 4G to 5G networks is not a mere connectivity upgrade, but argues that its capabilities will transform the way citizens live and work.
“The development of 5G is a critical initiative from the Singaporean government – $40m will be invested as part of its Smart Nation initiative to transform the nation into a leading global digital economy. This is important for Singapore to continue attracting foreign investment and driving economic growth,” she says.
In addition, Joris Knetsch, the managing director for SEA at MediaMonks believes 5G will provide a national digital petri-dish for high tech companies to start experimenting in a secure and stable environment before they would roll out to other parts of the world.
"The introduction of 5G will also provide more bandwidth to mobile phones and tablets, but I expect a lot of us won’t experience those benefits any time soon, since most of us have state-of-the-art phones with super-fast WiFi connections they use on a daily basis - being either at home or at remote work locations," he adds.
First mover advantage for Singapore?
According to research by AT Kearney, Singapore is expected to lead the way in South East Asia, followed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand.
Woodford says Singapore will likely benefit from a first-mover advantage, allowing it to stay competitive and ahead of competing economies. “Rapid return on investment on 5G technology adoption, and as a result, future bottom-line improvements, will catalyse businesses to further invest and deploy more 5G-enabled devices and systems,” he explains.
“That said, some people might be resistant to change. Ensuring clear communication of benefits and use cases will, therefore, be paramount for businesses and consumers alike.”
Many global brands use Singapore as a hub from which to run their APAC operations. Most recently, Dyson shifted its global headquarters to Singapore. While 5G will likely make the city-state more attractive to foreign business, local authorities hope better infrastructure will enable homegrown concerns to thrive.
For example, gaming hardware brand Razer has partnered with Singtel and the IMDA to explore how 5G networks could be used to enhance cloud gaming experience services, touted to be a game-changer.
“5G networks will also enable advancements in how we live. Key strategic clusters cited for early adoption include areas of urban mobility and smart estates. Partnerships have already been forged to trial use cases. CapitaLand is working with TPG Telecom to develop a smart estate, for example,” explains Lim.
“Eventually, all these benefits will add to Singapore’s reputation as an innovative and progressive city that will continue to attract talent and companies to reside and invest in."
Many technological advances that were halted due to bandwidth issues can suddenly find traction again, notes Rene Bokhorst, technical director for Singapore at MediaMonks and he predicts the country may become the number one testbed for any such new emerging technologies.
"People may try to predict what the first wave of those emerging technologies will be, but the future beyond that is hard to predict and exciting," he adds.
To prepare for the arrival of 5G and minimise disruption when it becomes widely available, Rico Chan, co-head for APAC at Verizon Media, says Singaporean businesses should start exploring new technologies such as AR, VR, AI, and even robotics. He points to the use of advanced industrial robots in smart manufacturing. Such equipment currently requires considerable bandwidth in order to seamlessly transmit high-definition video; with better connectivity available, their use could become widespread.
“In addition, 5G will expand the concept of real-time enterprise, connecting hundreds of IoT sensors that will be able to provide real-time status of production and operations such as processing lines and machines – helping companies make better decisions in near real-time,” explains Chan.
“There will also be possibilities for vast improvements in Singapore’s infrastructure. From reimagining the delivery of education to unprecedented advancements in healthcare, 5G would accelerate potential solutions for eventualities like the current Covid-19 crisis. 5G would also pave the way for the next generation of urban mobility systems.”
He adds: “The blazing network speed and low latency will make super-fast response and data analytics a reality. This could mean driverless cars, cloud-connected traffic control, smart street lights, and smart parking solutions.”
Immediate benefits for marketers and advertisers across industries
5G technology could enhance current media experiences, making them more immersive and interactive. Sophisticated media forms such as VR/ AR could be made more accessible and mainstream. For example, Verizon’s 5G studios in Los Angeles and London are already using new production technologies and media formats in a live 5G-enabled environment. It has experimented with technologies such as real-time rendering, live-streaming 3D formats, volumetric capture, location-based experiences, and live augmented reality. Verizon is set to bring this to Singapore when 5G is rolled out.
5G could also bring personalisation at scale far closer to reality. Because of its ability to process more data faster, across various platforms, marketers can discover what an individual wants and when they want it with better accuracy.
Lim suggests that the tourism sector will see the benefits soon, predicting that brands will utilise AR/VR for innovative brand experiences, enabling richer, personalised explorations of a destination for travellers before they set foot in the city.
“At the point of bookings, a more seamless experience can be enabled through connected devices such as voice-activated assistants. These rely on AI to process our requests and 5G is meant to improve the experience with more data processed and faster speed of delivery,” says Lim.
“Finally, when travellers do get to their destination, AR can be deployed to drive enhanced experiences. In Barcelona, they have introduced a 5G Augmented Tourism pilot which integrates 5G data and location service capabilities to share more information and richer content on attractions and monuments."
For esports, 5G will help spectators engage as participants in the form of instant replays from any angle or 360-degree view, live AR experiences. This could extend to stadiums, events, conferences and urban spaces with high footfall.
According to Charlie Baillie, co-founder and chief commercial officer at Ampverse, ”5G is going to unlock a wealth of new marketing opportunities – examples of these include enhanced experience due to reduced latency when running dynamic in-game advertising, as well as VR and AR formats in live esports venues allowing brands to deliver dynamic and immersive content experiences.”
The new normal
Working from home has become the new normal during the Covid-19 pandemic, though many workers have been forced to rely on unsecured home or semi-public wifi networks. Essence‘s Woodford suggests that 5G infrastructure could help business confidence in the future by providing more secure networks.
“Video conferencing, such as through Google Hangouts and Google Meets, is already the new normal and has been for years for some businesses like Essence. Knowing that all data being flowed is secure will catalyse these forms of communication, and with 5G, bring a richer experience for all,” he explains.
“Lag, or the more-than-familiar ‘can you repeat that as the line was bad‘, may become a thing of the past. Users will feel more comfortable and confident with the setup and more interaction will take place online, and not just due to legislation.”
This pandemic has no doubt fundamentally changed the way most organisations function, and there is no indication that things will go back to the way they were in a post Covid-19 world.
With 5G, company town halls or conferences could be streamed live for thousands from different locations. There are now virtual backgrounds on video calls, but with 5G, things can get a lot more inventive and entertaining. Think virtual meetings designed around the layout of offices, conferences with views of Singapore, or a pitch and presentation performed in 3D, all powered by 5G networks that allow real-time rendering of AR/VR experiences and even holographic projections.
All of this would be done in real-time, high quality, and without the worry of a poor experience and connectivity. Participants would be able to share, respond and participate as if they were present.
With ‘circuit breaker‘ policies likely to be introduced intermittently in a post-coronavirus world, the benefits of 5G will be welcomed by businesses and marketers across Singapore.