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Singapore announces nearly $30 million for 5G research and innovation

Key Points
  • Singapore has set aside 40 million Singapore dollars (more than $29.5 million) to support 5G research and innovation, the country's minister for communications and information, S Iswaran, said Thursday.
  • That investment is part of an initiative announced at the Innovfest Unbound conference in Singapore to begin early adoption trials for 5G technology in areas like maritime operations, urban mobility and various consumer and government applications.
  • 5G potentially promises much faster network speeds. Its low latency would mean information can be delivered nearly instantly and the greater bandwidth can allow more devices to connect onto the network.
Employees wait for a shuttle bus at a 5G testing park at Huawei's headquarters in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China May 29, 2019.
Jason Lee | Reuters

Singapore plans to become an innovation hub for the next generation of high-speed mobile internet known as 5G.

On Thursday, the country's minister for communications and information, S Iswaran, said the city-state has set aside 40 million Singapore dollars (more than $29.5 million) to support 5G research and innovation.

"Our aim is to facilitate the deployment of standalone 5G networks to tap into the potential of the technology," Iswaran said at the Innovfest Unbound conference.

A standalone network refers to new infrastructure designed using 5G-specific technologies. It is said to be relatively cheaper and more efficient compared to many of the initial wave of 5G networks that are being rolled out using existing infrastructure — known as non-standalone 5G.

The technology is "the backbone" of Singapore's digital economy, Iswaran later told CNBC's Matt Taylor in an interview. "Its resilience and security are key," he said.

The new investment is part of an initiative announced at the conference in Singapore to begin early adoption trials for 5G technology. It is set to be in areas such as maritime operations, urban mobility, and various consumer and government applications that can improve Singapore's economic competitiveness.

5G potentially promises much faster network speeds that can allow heavy-duty content like video to load more quickly on devices. At the same time, the standard's low latency would mean it takes less time for one gadget to talk to another, which means information can be delivered almost instantly. 5G also has greater bandwidth — meaning more devices can use the network at the same time without slowing down the upload or download speed of the mobile internet.

Countries like South Korea, China and the United States have been aggressively developing their 5G networks.

Meanwhile, Singapore's National Research Foundation, Cyber Security Agency and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) — the regulator for the information, communication and media sector — will also support research and development in 5G cybersecurity.

Security is a major point of concern globally because, in 5G networks, the emphasis is more on software instead of hardware. That means an equipment provider, or even a malicious third party that is able to gain access, can potentially monitor data transfers inside the network and eavesdrop on conversations.

When asked if Singapore has plans to allow Chinese telecommunications tech giant Huawei to build part of its 5G infrastructure, an IMDA spokesperson said the city-state encourages "vendor diversity" in its systems.

Iswaran told CNBC that Singapore will have "security requirements, and whichever telecom operator, working with whichever vendor, will have to meet our requirements and specifications and satisfy our agencies on that part."

The IMDA spokesperson added that the agency is studying the supply chain risks in 5G.

For its part, Huawei has come under increased scrutiny in recent years. Countries including the United States have banned the company from participating in their 5G rollouts on concerns about security risks.

— CNBC's Shirley Tay and Todd Haselton contributed to this report.

Watch: What is 5G?

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What is 5G?