Singapore’s ICT trials - social robots, solar-powered Wi-Fi, HetNet and tropical data centres

Source: Ministry of Communications and Information

The Singapore government has partnered the industry to launch several new ICT trials this year, such as the use of robots in preschools, solar-powered outdoor Wi-Fi and tropical data centres.

“This spirit of openness and connectedness to the rest of the world is something that we must continue to embrace. We welcome companies, both locally and internationally, to treat Singapore as a ‘living lab’ to develop, test and commercialise new technologies. These include innovative urban solutions that can transform the way we run our cities, manage our homes and live our lives. Singapore offers a variety of environments to conduct ICT trials in a real-life settings, from mixed-use urban areas such as Jurong Lake District in the west, to housing estates like Yuhua and Punggol, and even Sentosa, our very own island getaway,” said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information.

Robots for Early Childhood Education 

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is currently conducting a pilot study on the use of social robots in early childhood education. The study aims to test the impact of social robots in early childhood education and to gain insights into how robots can used in pre-schools in future. Understanding how children respond to and interact with robots could support the lesson designs of future learning technologies.

The 7-month pilot study is conducted at two pre-school centres in partnership with Softbank Telecom Singapore and NTU Robotics Research Centre. Two social robots, Pepper and NAO, will be used to test usage in areas of collaborative play and interactive storytelling. During the pilot study, use cases, robot applications and lesson plans will be developed, and teachers will be trained to facilitate the lessons with the use of robots.

“Our children love to play with and learn together with robots, hence we believe that robots can benefit our children in schools, and this partnership supports a new paradigm for us to plan and design learning and creativity to allow our children to explore and co-construct knowledge,” said Thian Ai Ling, Deputy General Manager of My First Skool.

Green Wi-Fi Pilot @ Sentosa

In partnership with Aruba, M1, Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) and Skylab, the Green Wi-Fi Pilot will explore ways to expand the pervasiveness of Wi-Fi into outdoor spaces. The pilot will trial Wi-Fi deployment using wireless backhaul technology and solar panels to power and enable broadband services in a cost effective and environmentally sustainable manner.  

The pilot is slated to start in June 2016 across a 15 month period. IDA and SDC will look into the pilot results and consider deploying outdoor Wireless@SG hotspots at more locations across the island. 

“Traditionally, developing Wifi outdoors has been difficult and costly, due to the trenching works required. As such, most of the Wireless@SG hotspots are indoors. If this pilot is successful and I believe it will, we could potentially expand Wireless@SG to reach more outdoor areas in a sustainable manner, and bring the public Wifi coverage in Singapore to the next level,” said Dr Ibrahim.

HetNet Trials

Mobile data traffic in Singapore to grow exponentially from approximately 3.1 petabytes per month in 2010 to approximately 37 petabytes per month in 2015, growing at an annual compound rate of 64%.  To mitigate the potential crunch in wireless spectrum usage and available traffic capacity, IDA is exploring HetNet as a strategy to provide seamless connectivity everytime and everywhere, indoors and outdoors.

Conducted with the participation of telcos M1, MyRepublic, Singtel and StarHub, the trials have commenced since April 2016 at the Jurong Lake District, covering locations such as lifts, pedestrian walkways, the bus interchange and MRT train station.  

Through these trials, industry players will evaluate efficient and optimal solutions to easing network congestion in areas with heavy human traffic and providing uninterrupted high-speed Internet access to users as they move from homes to public areas such as train stations. They will also test new methodologies, using small cells to boost mobile coverage in areas where macro coverage is weak, such as lifts or void decks.   

Existing deployments of LTE leverage on a duplexing technique called Frequency Division Duplex (FDD). For these trials, besides LTE-FDD, some participants will be using a new duplexing technique called Time Division Duplex (TDD) which enables more flexibility in spectrum utilization. One of the objectives of the trials is to enable the interworking of LTE-FDD and LTE-TDD so that mobile devices  may access both networks seamlessly. 

By harnessing all available networks across different parts of the wireless spectrum, HetNet can increase Singapore’s overall wireless capacity and hence data speeds.  This will not only improve user experience but also meet the growing demand for mobile connectivity and usage of bandwidth intensive applications.

Consumer devices will be able to roam across different environments covered by networks of different wireless technologies and maintain seamless access to internet services. Therefore, users are more likely to remain connected even when a particular network is down.

Tests conducted at the Jurong East train station showed a significant 65.67% improvements in average download speeds and 21.21% improvements in upload  speeds. 

Tropical Data Centres

Data centres accounted for 7% of Singapore’s total energy demand in 2012, and are projected to reach 12% of its total energy demand by 2030 due to continued growth of data centres based here.

Collaborating with industry and experts, IDA will develop and deploy the world’s first Tropical Data Centre (TDC). This proof-of-concept will establish the feasibility of operating data centres in a tropical environment, such as with ambient temperatures of up to 38 degrees Celsius and ambient humidity levels exceeding 90%.

IDA estimates that up to 40% of energy consumption could be reduced should the trial prove successful. This would cut carbon emissions and energy savings can be quickly implemented globally as well. Globally, data centres are kept consistently cooled to between 20-25 degrees Celsius with ambient relative humidity of between 50-60%. A data centre’s main operating cost is therefore usually spent on energy consumption in maintaining such controlled environments. 

Allowing for higher ambient temperatures and humidity would thus have immediate cost saving impact if the trial shows it is possible to run data centres in hot tropical and humid climates common in Southeast Asia. The trials will be conducted with simulated server loads to reflect “live” situations such as sudden peak surges, low-usage, and large amounts of data transferred between networks and storage devices. The trials will be run continuously (24 hours, 7 days a week) alongside a control setup.

Mr Khoong Hock Yun, Assistant Chief Executive, IDA said, “With Singapore’s continued growth as a premium hub for data centres, we want to develop new technologies and standards that allow us to operate advanced data centres in the most energy efficient way in a tropical climate.  New ideas and approaches, such as raising either the ambient temperature or humidity, will be tested to see if these can greatly increase our energy efficiency, with insignificant impact on the critical data centre operations. To create new value in our Smart Nation journey, we need to embrace an attitude of experimentation, to be willing to develop new ideas together, and test the feasibility of progressive and positive technological advancements that has a good possibility to enhance our industry's competitiveness."