The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) continues to forge ahead on its mission of advancing science and developing innovative technology to further economic growth and improve lives. It is at the forefront of innovative, economic-oriented technology research.
OpenGov spoke to Dr. John Kan (above), Chief Information Officer (CIO), Information Technology Shared Services at A*STAR to learn about the agency’s key role in Singapore’s Smart Nation Programme. Mr Max Tsang, Deputy Director, Information Technology and Services and Dr. Govindasamy Rajasekaran, Head, IT Planning & Communications also provided inputs.
The agency is driving progress in many areas, such as new forms of Big Data management, mobility, next generation networks and supercomputing. A*STAR is one of the core partners for the achievement of Singapore’s Smart Nation Vision. The agency has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and works with the Smart Nation Programme Office (SNPO) under the Prime Minister’s Office in Singapore.
Storage on Demand
A*STAR has also created a unique Storage on Demand (SOD) model. It is a storage-as-a-service or a utility storage model. Traditionally, organisations invest in storage systems, which require maintenance and upgrades, every few years. With SOD, users can seek and use storage according to their requirements and expand whenever they need.
The usage by individual end-users can be tracked based on a unique algorithm. The storage itself can be easily bought from several vendors in the market. It’s the management software to map the end-user to the actual storage being used in the main systems, which makes this system radically convenient.
It is easy to track how much they use and charge them based on the usage. It is implemented using A*STAR's on-premise data centres.
The benefits to the users of SOD include:
- Unlimited Rapid Scalability – Quick provisioning and de-provisioning of storage capacity and unlimited storage size
- Resilience- Automatic backup of data from PCs, servers, notebooks and storage media devices
- Lower costs – Significantly lower charges compared to commercial vendors
Green Data Centres
Dr. Kan also highlighted A*STAR’s initiatives in IDA’s Green Data Centres programme. He told OpenGov, “We have a new type of data centre at Fusionopolis, which uses warm water cooling, with water temperature at around 35 degree Celsius, as compared to traditional use of chilled water, at around 15-18 degree Celsius. It helps to achieve significant power savings.”
A*STAR is also using virtual machines (emulations of computer systems) in the Green data centres, thereby saving power and storage space and reducing the carbon footprint.
Procurement Management System
A*STAR has successfully developed a procurement management system (ePRS) to automate the procurement process. Other government agencies have expressed interest in adopting the system.
It is used for validation as well as prediction. The objectives were to reduce human error, use analytics to predict purchases and enable cost-savings through demand aggregation and helping the organisation to highlight red flags or anomalies in procurement.
As part of this A*STAR came up with a random number generator to perform sampling checks, in order to find lapses in procedure. The system is connected to the ERP, so that A*STAR can run the analytics algorithm on procurement data, extracted from the ERP databases.
Data Analytics – Smart Nation City Dashboard
The A*STAR Data Analytics Exchange Platform (A*DAX) is a leading research project in the Urban Systems Initiative. A*DAX seeks to aggregate information from different government agencies. The platform handles static and real-time public and commercial data. This will help in using analytics tools to derive insights for decision-making and facilitate sharing of information among different agencies. Supercomputers will be used for analysing the data.
The vision is to create a City Dashboard through which government agencies, businesses and people are able to make informed decisions and respond to dynamic conditions in the city.
“We are improving Situational Awareness by establishing control centres, where you can see aggregated information on the screen at the same time. It can be used for controlling the MRT, monitoring essential services such as utilities”, Dr. Kan said.
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT is a key aspect of the Smart Nation Programme. A*STAR is spearheading research into manufacturing technologies and analysis of feeds from CCTVs. The agency is working on the most efficient ways to absorb information from IoT devices, including robots or automation equipment on shop floor.
The SoundEye system is an example of an IoT application. It was developed for the welfare of elderly people in the community. Intelligent sound and motion sensors are used to monitor their movement, without the intrusive use of wearables or cameras. If they are living alone and suffer a heart attack or a fall, the sensors will detect the abnormal sound, like a scream or shout or the prolonged absence of movement and send an alarm to pre-defined mobile numbers. It can also be used for monitoring the movement of young children at home.
A*STAR allows employees to bring their own devices to the office, the practice known as BYOD (Bring your own device). They can use them for research work on the open network, boosting productivity. Robust security measures have been implemented to protect valuable data.
Another aspect of mobility could be related to artificial intelligence and computer-brain interfaces. For example, disabled people could control equipment using sensors implanted in the brain.
A*STAR has also implemented mobile solutions like a Mobile Incident Reporting Application (MIRA) within the organisation. Considering the ubiquity of mobile devices, it is easy for staff to report the unexpected incidents.
They can simply take out their mobile device to capture the incident and report it to Infrastructure Planning and Facilities Management (IPFM) or Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for action. HSE/ IPFM obtain a clearer picture by looking at the photo taken. Consequently, the organisation can have a safer and better working environment.
Other applications developed in-house include one for tracking files in the legal department, using RFID (Radio-frequency identification).
On another front, the agency is also working with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on autonomous vehicles. The vehicles are already being tested on road. It is a part of urban mobility under the Smart Nation Programme.
A*STAR has developed an ‘Application Catalogue’ to promote the adoption of the various applications by improving their visibility. Some applications, including legacy ones, within research institutes might not surface otherwise. Staff might be continuing to use manual processes due to lack of awareness of A*STAR applications. Through the catalogue, all applications regardless of scale will be tracked. Any department or research community can consult the catalogue.
A*STAR is developing a security-in-depth framework, encompassing the five pillars of governance, policy, compliance, process and technology.
As mentioned earlier, strong security has been factored into devices permitted under BYOD. All standard steps, related to encryption, authentication, data classification, educating users, regular external auditing and tie-ups with security partners are stringently followed.
Critical systems are monitored on a 24/7 basis. A*STAR has established an after-hours call centre and implemented automated website monitoring alerts, ensuring timely information sharing and effective response to security threats and incidents under a SIEM (Security Incident & Escalation Management) framework.
DRP (Disaster Recovery Plans) were enhanced through mutual backup to NTU’s data centre on a reciprocal basis.
A*STAR’s data centres are ISO 27001 certified. A*STAR is also FIRST certified by IDA (Forum of Incident Response and Security Team- FIRST is an international confederation of trusted computer incident response teams, who cooperate to handle security incidents and promote incident prevention programmes).
It is reflective of a very high level of security achievement. While leading the way on cutting-edge technologies, A*STAR continues to strengthen cybersecurity measures to deal with escalating threats.
Read the second part of the report here.
The Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) will be collaborating with a chemical manufacturing corporation in research that will drive new advancements in sustainable lithium battery technologies. The joint project will be led by the Executive Director of the Energy Research Institute at NTU (ERI@N) and Co-Director of NTUSingapore CEA Alliance for Research in Circular Economy (SCARCE), a centre for excellence in innovative solutions for recycling and recovering valuable elements from e-waste.
The Chief Commercial Officer at the chemical manufacturing corporation has played an important role in many breakthroughs in battery research and development. By expanding its R&D partnerships, the company can build on its heritage of innovation and continue to push the boundaries of what is possible and find optimal pathways for progress.
The firm is excited to begin this journey with a pioneering, distinguished scientist like Professor Srinivasan and the entire team at NTU, as new pathways to support advancements in battery technology can be explored.
The Executive Director of the Energy Research Institute at NTU (ERI@N), who will lead the research, is a renowned academic whose research focuses on the circular economy. She worked extensively on research initiatives with battery industry leaders and helps advise on public policies for energy and sustainability in Singapore and around the world. She is also the Executive Director of the Sustainability Office at NTU Singapore, which oversees and integrates sustainability initiatives and innovation across the University and its smart campus.
She noted that NTU Singapore has a strong history of working closely with the industry to commercialise research into tangible and impactful outcomes. The team is excited to collaborate with innovative leaders like the partnering firm, to advance sustainable lithium battery technologies. Their hope is to accelerate a more sustainable approach for lithium-ion batteries used in millions of electric vehicles and portable devices across the world.
The global Lithium-ion Battery Market was US$36.90 billion in 2020. The global market size is projected to reach US$193.13 billion by 2028, exhibiting a CAGR of 23.3% during the forecast period from 2021-2028.
Recent research shows that the continuing demand for power supply for numerous applications, augmented demand for electric vehicles, the surging necessity of battery-operated equipment and machinery in automotive industries, and the usage of lithium-ion batteries in renewable energy applications are sustaining the lithium-ion battery market growth.
As governments across the globe begin imposing guidelines for the monitoring of surging pollution phases. Various industries are being compelled to use lithium-ion batteries. The power industry is working to manufacture renewable energy and stock for future purposes.
In addition, low cost, low-self discharge rate, and negligible installation space are a few of the crucial factors driving the implementation of lithium-ion batteries in smart grid and energy storage systems. Since the product is more resilient to high temperatures, it is perfect for usage in distant areas and thermal control applications. The Asia Pacific region is expected to hold the largest lithium-ion battery market share during the mentioned period.
NTU is home to various leading research centres including the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI) and Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N). Under the NTU Smart Campus vision, the University harnesses the power of digital technology and tech-enabled solutions to support better learning and living experiences, the discovery of new knowledge, and the sustainability of resources.
Indonesia has great ambitions for its digital economy and has deployed strategies to achieve its ambitions with a goal to reach USD315 billion by 2030. The 2021-2024 Indonesia Digital Roadmap is set on 4 pillars, namely digital infrastructure, digital government, digital economy and digital society.
As part of its strategy, the government is promoting four important digital skills to accelerate its digital economy. The government believes that the future demand for digital skills will be focused on four areas Artificial Intelligence, Bitcoin, Cloud Computing, and Data Analytics (ABCD). The ABCD skills are projected to help the national economy hit its US$315 billion by 2030 target.
Therefore, the Indonesian government is encouraging young people to start businesses through a variety of free programs such as Beta School, 1,000 Startup Movement, Startup Studio, HUB.ID and IGDX.
“Aside from university disciplines, the ABCD is becoming increasingly important for everyone. I believe that all young people require ABCD,” stated Dedy Permadi, Expert Staff of the Minister of Communication and Informatics, in a discussion forum.
Mastering ABCD technical hard skills apart, Indonesian digital talents are also expected to be proficient in non-technical or soft skills known as the 4C’s, which are Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Communication.
The Director of SDPPI Kominfo, Ismail, expressed his hope that the young generation in Indonesia would capture the golden opportunity for digitalisation. Digitalisation will transform Indonesia from a consumer country to a prominent player in the new normal.
The government recognises the importance of good infrastructure support in boosting the digital economy. As a result, the government is working to ensure an equitable distribution of internet connection networks across Indonesia, particularly in frontier, remote, and underdeveloped (3T) areas.
According to Ismail, the development of ICT infrastructure must meet three criteria: broad coverage, the deployment of a fibre-optic cable network on the backbone, and affordability, which means that the price is reasonable for the community.
Private operators focus on developing infrastructure in high-demand urban areas and, as a result, the digital divide between cities and towns has grown wider. Consequently, the government is beginning to develop 3T telecommunications in rural, underserved areas.
“We cannot rely solely on private-sector investment. To speed up and accelerate digital transformation, the government must invest in infrastructure,” Ismail said emphatically.
The Ministry of Communication and Information Agency and Telecommunications and Information Accessibility (BAKTI) have also worked to improve and expand internet access for public services throughout Indonesia. BAKTI is working with telecommunications companies to build Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) in remote areas of Indonesia.
“We hope to finish building BTS in all remote areas by 2023 and connect them to the 4G network,” Deddy stated.
Indonesia is a vast archipelagic country. So, relying solely on fibre optic cable networks will make it difficult to provide connectivity. As a result, the government is combining the fibre optic cable network constructed with the 150 Gbps SATRIA 1 satellite.
This multifunctional satellite can provide internet access to 150,000 public service locations in Indonesia, including educational institutions, local governments, defence and security administration, and health facilities. This satellite is scheduled to launch in 2023.
The government has begun construction of the first National Data Centre in the Delta Mas Region, GIIC, Cikarang District, Bekasi Regency, West Java Province, in connection with its digital strategy. It will then gradually expand data centres in Nongsa Digital Park in Batam, Riau Archipelago, the new National Capital City (IKN) in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, and Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara.
The creation of this government data centre is intended to promote efficiency, effectiveness, state data sovereignty, and national data consolidation as part of the One Data Indonesia initiative. “This (data centre) is critical because government data management is critical to developing society’s transformation into a digital society,” Deddy said.
The Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) affirmed its strategic co-incubation partnership with a Canada-focused venture capital firm to identify promising international start-ups seeking to expand their innovation journey to Hong Kong, into the GBA and beyond.
With a proven track record in life science start-ups, the VC firm will work with HKSTP to build an inbound stream of early and mid-stage ventures. The co-incubation programme aims to bring several strong-performing ventures to Hong Kong with a focus on biotech, but also on other deep-tech areas such as ESG, advanced materials, edutech and AI.
To date, as Hong Kong’s largest technological ecosystem, HKSTP has helped accelerate growth for hundreds of outstanding start-ups, raising over HK$80.2 billion in total funding in the past five years. During the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the total valuation of HKSTP’s acceleration programme start-ups grew over 250% while total investment funds raised have also doubled.
The partnership with the VC firm is the most recent of HKSTP’s series of strategic co-incubation programmes with global market leaders in the industry, investment, R&D and academia, which further elevate Hong Kong’s innovation and technology (I&T) ecosystem strength as a global springboard to success.
Riding on Hong Kong’s thriving biotech market and the city’s status as the world’s second-largest biotech fundraising hub, the co-incubation partnership also recognises HKSTP’s impact and success in building a vibrant biotech ecosystem in Hong Kong.
The Head of Incubation and Acceleration Programmes at HKSTP stated that the co-incubation partnership with an international player like the partnering firm validates Hong Kong’s unique and growing status as a global I&T hub helping international start-ups go beyond borders in their global growth journey.
She noted that with a pipeline of seed stage and series A start-up’s already in place, this proves the strength of the HKSTP innovation ecosystem and confirms that Hong Kong is open again for global business and an ideal launchpad for high-growth tech ventures seeking GBA, regional and global expansion.
The Managing Partner of the VC firm stated that the signing of this co-incubation agreement will allow the two parties to incubate and introduce promising global start-ups to scale their businesses in Asia. The firm will continue to leverage its unique cross-pacific networks and investment niches in transformative life science technologies to enrich Hong Kong’s innovation ecosystem with more ground-breaking technologies from North American start-ups.
The programme features co-incubation activities ranging from business development, consulting and training to mentoring sessions for qualified overseas start-ups. Participating entrepreneurs will also create proofs-of-concept and pilot initiatives.
The start-ups will tap into the investment and international business network reach of the firm while also formally joining the HKSTP innovation ecosystem to access product validation, commercialisation and go-to-market expertise from HKSTP and its wider network of partners.
Specialising in investing globally in science and technology-based start-ups, the VC firm has been active in Hong Kong and Asia with its specific focus on nurturing start-ups that aspire to expand to China and Asia. In 2019 it facilitated eight Canadian start-ups from prestigious start-up programmes to come to Hong Kong to gain deeper insights into strategic landing tactics and expansion into the Asian markets. This latest partnership with HKSTP has forged a new level of commitment to the Hong Kong I&T ecosystem.
The Singapore Food Agency (SFA), National University of Singapore (NUS), Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL), and seven industry partners signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop the AquaPolis Programme.
The AquaPolis Programme is an initiative under Singapore Food Story R&D Programme 2.0. It envisions Singapore as a leading research and innovation cluster for sustainable tropical aquaculture. The aim is to gather local and overseas aquaculture researchers and industry partners to foster strategic synergies in developing innovative and sustainable solutions while cultivating talent for the industry’s workforce.
AquaPolis will capitalise on the technical, operational and research expertise of strategic partners to achieve translational R&D results, in improving the productivity and competitiveness of our local farms towards Singapore’s “30 by 30” food security goal.
This goal aims to build the agri-food industry’s capability and capacity to sustainably produce 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030. Beyond local production, the developed solutions and innovations may also be relevant to agri-food industries in other regional countries and contribute to sustainable food practices and enhance our food security, particularly in the light of climate change.
The MoU demonstrates the shared commitment of SFA, NUS, and TLL in R&D collaboration, and exchanges with industry partners on the knowledge of cultivation and intensification of sustainable aquaculture production in Singapore.
The MoU was jointly signed by the Chief Executive Officer of SFA; the Deputy President (Research and Technology) of NUS; the Chief Executive Officer of TLL as well as major heads from the seven industry partners.
The Chief Executive Officer of SFA stated that the agency welcomes the strategic collaboration. He noted that it is exciting to see R&D talents from local and overseas institutions as well as our key industry partners, coming together with innovation and sustainability in mind, to build Singapore’s capabilities and capacity in aquaculture within Singapore and beyond.
The aquaculture industry plays a key role in Singapore and the world’s food security, and the leader is confident that these collective efforts will strengthen food security and build a resilient food future for Singapore.
The Deputy President (Research and Technology) of NUS stated that the University is excited to host the AquaPolis Programme. The University looks forward to collaborating closely with the Singapore Food Agency and Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory to co-create innovative research solutions to address challenges in tropical aquaculture.
The Chief Executive Officer of TLL stated that AquaPolis represents a milestone in Singapore’s 20-year journey to bring together partners, with a vision to transform our aquatic food systems to be more sustainable and resilient for a growing population considering global climate changes.
The Lab looks forward, together with SFA and NUS in partnership with the industry partners, to help lay the foundation for research-based innovation to address challenges faced by the industry today and to nurture the next generation of aquaculture champions to benefit all consumers in Singapore.
SFA will be uplifting the aquaculture industry in the coming years through the Singapore Aquaculture Plan (SAP). Through the SAP, SFA will focus on productive and sustainable production and unlock the full potential of sea-based fish farming.
- Unlocking new spaces through sea space tenders and longer leases;
- Supporting the aquaculture sector to transform into one that is highly productive, climate-resilient and resource-efficient using technology and adopting appropriate farm management methods. These include conducting environmental surveys and water and seabed quality surveys to better inform farm management;
- Supporting research and innovation for sustainable tropical aquaculture through leveraging on SFA’s Marine Aquaculture Centre.
Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has recently updated its platform known as Chief Technology Officer-as-a-Service (CTO-as-a-Service). The platform enables SMEs to self-assess their digital readiness and needs at any time and from any location, as well as access market-proven and cost-effective digital solutions and engage digital consultants for in-depth advisory and project management services.
This is for any business entity that wants to know how to start going digital, understand what type of solutions to adopt for its specific business challenge, or choose the solution that best meets its needs.
An enterprise can benefit from CTO-as-a-Service through:
- Conduct a self-evaluation of its digital readiness and pinpoint its gaps and needs in terms of digitalisation;
- Study other Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) that have carried out digitalisation projects successfully;
- Receive digital solution suggestions based on the business’s needs and profile; and
- Evaluate the features and costs of various digital solutions.
There are more than 450 subsidised digital solutions available for selection, including those that address industry-specific or general business needs, as well as those that serve to streamline operations, increase business sales revenue, or ensure business resiliency.
The business can also work with digital consultants from the designated operators through CTO-as-a-Service, for digital advisory to assist:
- Seek a deeper comprehension of its business priorities and needs;
- Create training plans and digital solutions specifically for its businesses;
- Include fundamental data usage, protection, and cybersecurity risks in the digitalisation process.
The business may also ask digital consultants to assist with project managing the rollout of its digitalisation initiatives.
Eligible businesses can use digital advisory and project management services for free for the first time. Should the businesses want to keep using digital consultants, future usage or service enhancement will be based on commercial agreements.
Any company that satisfies the requirements below is qualified to use free project management and digital advisory services for the first time:
- Licensed and active in Singapore;
- A minimum of 30 per cent local shareholding;
- Enterprise’s group employment size is no more than 200 employees, or the group’s annual sales turnover is no more than S$100 million;
- Has never previously used CTO-as-a-Service digital consultants.
Meanwhile, SMEs are the backbone of Singapore’s economy. They employ two-thirds of the country’s workers and contribute almost half of Singapore’s GDP. Since digital technology is changing every part of Singapore’s economy, SMEs need to take advantage of digital technologies to grow and do well.
The SMEs Go Digital programme, which was started by the IMDA in April 2017, is meant to make going digital easy for SMEs. More than 80,000 SMEs have used the programme’s digital solutions.
Enterprises can also use advanced and integrated solutions to improve their capabilities, strengthen business continuity measures, and build longer-term resilience. Solutions that are supported by government agencies solve common problems at the enterprise level on a large scale, help enterprises adopt new technologies, and make it easier for enterprises to do business within or across sectors.
IMDA works with sector-led agencies and industry players to find advanced and integrated digital solutions that can be supported and are relevant to their sectors. Companies that want to use these solutions can check the IMDA website to find out when they can apply for each one.
Costs for hardware, software, infrastructure, connectivity, cybersecurity, integrations, development, improvement, and project management can be covered by funding support. With this, the agency has kept helping businesses, and the list of solutions that are supported will grow, with an emphasis on AI-enabled and cloud-based solutions.
Taiwan City Science Lab @ Taipei Tech demonstrated a series of cutting-edge AI applications. The lab exhibit advanced AI applications and their research and development results, such as the mobile robot, a AI robotic fish and Campus Rover.
The cross-disciplinary R&D and teaching laboratory aims to be a global technology and talent exchange platform. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Taipei Tech are coming together to jointly established City Science Lab @ Taipei Tech.
“Through developing advanced AI technology and big data system, we plan to make Taiwan the island of high-end technology,” said Yao Leehter, Taipei Tech Chair Professor of the Department of Electrical Engineering.
Yao indicated that Taipei Tech alums highly support the lab. The lab also collaborates with Kent Larson, the leader of MIT City Science Lab, the City Science Lab @ Taipei Tech aims to be an international platform for technology and talent exchange.
Taipei Tech adopts and jointly promotes with MIT to implement the Undergraduate Scientific Research Programme. Known as UROP, the programme provides sufficient resources for students and cultivates a new generation of scientific researchers. The collaboration was initially rolled out in 1969 by MIT’s first President, William Rogers.
For students to learn the most modern and state-of-the-art technology applications, the lab provides advanced equipment for R&D purposes, such as mobile robots. The agile, mobile robot can adapt to complex terrains and is equipped with LIDAR, infrared, and stereo vision sensors, which can draw 3D point cloud maps in real-time and detect and dodge obstacles. The mobile robot is used in decommissioned nuclear power plants, factories, construction sites, and offshore drilling oil platforms. Another mobile robot use case is for patrol, troubleshooting, and leak detection.
In addition, the lab also showcased its R&D results which are the AI robotic fish to the advanced instrumental equipment. The robotic fish is a streamlined robot designed to resemble a real fish. The fish robot comprehends and mimics the motion model of swimming fish through machine learning.
The robot can swim underwater in a simulated way. To perfectly mimic the fish movement, researchers have spent significant time collecting massive movement data from real fish, documenting, and analysing the swimming performance. Afterwards, they utilised AI technology and programme coding to control the motoric movement of the robotic fish.
The team then spent a year adjusting the robotic fish to make the swim movement look like a real fish. Machinery fish propulsion efficiency and excellent swimming performance are considered one of the most critical subjects in bionics.
“The robotic fish is useful for biological research and can also be used to carry out underwater operations and examine water quality,” said Yao.
Recently, the fish robot was involved in movie production. During the designing process, the production house team suggested adding a “cloth” on the fish with fish skin and fish scale to make it more lifelike. The company also came up with the idea to use a magnet to stick the fish scale on the body of the robotic fish. Taiwan Textile Research Institute and the local design research group joined the brainstorming and production process to finish the golden fish’s final look onscreen.
Moreover, The Campus Rover, developed by the team of Professor Yao in cooperation with the Taipei Tech Department of Industrial Design, demonstrated practical AI applications in real life. For example, campus or express hospital service can use the self-charging robot to ensure delivery safety.
Around 30,000 rural homes and communities will soon have access to faster and improved connectivity with an expansion of the Rural Capacity Upgrade programme. 21 new contracts have been signed by Crown Infrastructure partners to accelerate upgrades to towers and broadband connections in areas with poor coverage.
The announcement was made by the Minister for Rural Communities, Damien O’Connor, and the Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, David Clark. This round of the Rural Capacity Upgrade will see many existing towers upgraded and new connections established in rural areas experiencing poor performance. Areas that will benefit from these improvements include, but are not limited to, settlements in the Far North, Gisborne, the Manawatu-Whanganui region, Taranaki, Southland, and Waikato.
The project is expected to significantly boost the economic productivity of homes and businesses with a slow, unreliable, or unusable connection, Clark noted. The government is committed to improving rural connectivity and is on track to see 99.8% of New Zealanders receive access to improved broadband because of the Ultra-Fast Broadband rollout, Rural Broadband Initiative, the Marae Digital Connectivity programme, and the Mobile Black Spot Fund by the end of 2023, he explained.
The investment in rural connectivity will work alongside Land Information NZ’s rollout of the Southern Positioning Augmentation Network (SouthPAN) service. As OpenGov Asia had reported earlier, SouthPAN is the Southern Hemisphere’s first satellite navigation augmentation service. It will improve the availability and accuracy of positioning, taking it from 5-10 metres to as little as 10 centimetres across the country.
This will boost rural productivity through precision agriculture and horticulture, fenceless farming, and improve the safety of search and rescue in the backcountry. The government, along with private sector contributions, has invested more than $2.5 billion into improving digital connectivity to date.
The government has also released “Lifting Connectivity in Aotearoa”, which sets out the high-level connectivity vision for New Zealand over the next decade. This includes the goal that all New Zealanders have access to high-speed connectivity networks, and that the country is in the top 20% of nations with respect to international connectivity measures.
Last month, the government launched the Remote Users Scheme to provide broadband and connect New Zealand’s most remote communities. Clark had announced the scheme, noting that it would equip as many remote households as possible with the connectivity infrastructure needed to access broadband services. As reported on OpenGov Asia, the Remote Users Scheme will help connect people to online health services and educational tools. Through Budget 2022, $15 million was allocated towards funding the scheme, as part of the broader $60 million rural connectivity package announced earlier in the year.
The Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP), which was established by the government, will administer the Remote Users Scheme and is calling for applications from potentially eligible households and communities. A request for proposal from Internet service providers will follow. It is expected that new broadband connectivity infrastructure for the eligible areas and households can begin being built in mid-2023.