Yesterday, 26th October 2006, at the Marriott Hotel in San Mateo, a group of students, businesses and other interested parties gathered to listen to Singapore government officials on the vision of an Intelligent Island for 2015. The vision is to have free broadband access to all in Singapore up to 512kbps for 2 years. This announcement was also made in conjunction with an announcement that 3 new licenses for island wide wireless hotspots were announced. Wired broadband players will be announced later.
Singapore has had great broadband connectivity (I believe it was about 95% about 3 years ago), yet uptake was slow. Pricing was a large reason for this as well as usability and interoperability issues. So making it free will indeed help drive uptake. Other issues will then be affordability of handsets or computers, usability and usefulness of applications and services. The plan also clearly stakes out the needs for security, privacy, interoperability, etc. All important concepts. Singapore hopes to have 90% broadband usage by 2015, and is also focusing on bridging the digital divide between elderly, disabled and students to ensure everyone is included in this new vision for Singapore. They shared a very futuristic video with us, but as they pointed out- every device shown is already in a lab somewhere and the belief is that much of these devices and applications will be commercialised by 2015. Singapore is hoping to attract players in these fields of innovation into Singapore.
I do hope they will consider to have the free services extended beyond 2 years! A comment was made in the audience from a carrier attendee, that giving it free and giving away so many licenses will make it hard for carriers to have a business model to fund innovation. Whist there is some justification to this argument, I prefer to see how carriers can be creative to move beyond just being access providers. Also to see how newer players such a Google come into the access sphere and challenge old business models that carriers are used to. This new world of a user centric and participative (interactive) communications world is only just unfolding.
As more and more countries start offering free hotspots either through community networks, government networks or subsidised networks, users will take this up and create greater digital opportunities for themselves and the nation. Many carriers are threatened by this trend, but I think they should really consider access as a commodity and go further up the value chain. Who will excel at this we shall see.
Anyone with great ideas to share with Singapore, should send their ideas to IDA in San Francisco. Check out www.siliconvalleyjournal.blogspot.com for photos from this event.