SINGAPORE – Driverless roadsweeper vehicles that an operator can control from elsewhere and digital signboards that act as shopfronts for consumers to buy goods from are some new applications tapping 5G mobile networks that the Government is testing in Sentosa.
They are among the first set of 5G public sector trials on the island announced on Tuesday (Oct 19) by Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo.
This 5G @ Sentosa project is led by the Government Technology Agency (GovTech), Sentosa Development Corporation and telco Singtel.
The trials are to allow government agencies to track the capabilities of 5G for various smart nation applications with the goal of rolling them out on the mainland in the next five years.
Some applications could offer manpower savings, improve safety at worksites and deliver services to people more easily.
“5G… provides a superior connectivity channel to handle large amounts of data in real time without compromising the quality of the data transmitted,” said Mr Lim Chinn Hwa, GovTech’s senior director for smart nation platform solutions, at a media briefing.
A 5G network is said to be 10 times faster than 4G and has more bandwidth, which means more devices can be connected to it.
Since 5G has lower latency than 4G, high resolution videos can be streamed in real time with almost no lag compared with 4G.
So far, 10 trials are under way in Sentosa, with most having started in August. The Government aims to have 15 trials by public agencies by the end of the year, and at least 30 by the first half of 2023.
The Infocomm Media Development Authority will be working with Singtel to identify companies that can offer potential 5G solutions for government agencies to support the Sentosa trials.
On choosing Sentosa for the tests, Mr Lim said the island is a “microcosm of Singapore and provides a defined environment for government agencies to study and trial (5G) use cases proficiently”.
Sentosa is almost entirely covered by Singtel’s 5G network for the trial except for a few areas where tests are currently not being done.
Singtel, StarHub and M1 have started rolling out 5G networks with about 50 per cent coverage across the country now. Nationwide coverage is expected by 2025.
The remote-controlled roadsweeper tests, conducted by the National Environment Agency and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), could help pave the way for several vehicles to be deployed with just one remote operator as the safety driver for all. This could help save on manpower.
Tests have shown that the vehicle can be operated from NTU which is about 20km from Sentosa.
The teleoperation system that an operator uses to control the roadsweeper looks akin to a driving simulator and creates the illusion that he is sitting in the actual vehicle in Sentosa.
When he helps to navigate, such as when the vehicle encounters tricky road or weather conditions, he can react quickly since he can see the area in front of the roadsweeper, hear sounds near it and even feel it going over humps on the road.
Professor Wang Danwei from NTU’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering said it is possible to send over the video feed from the roadsweeper to the operator almost instantly with 5G. But with 4G, this is not achievable.
While there is some long-range Wi-Fi that can be as good as 5G, it requires equipment to be set up in specific locations and, even then, the distance it covers is more limited than 5G.
Prof Wang said 5G is “more convenient for teleoperations and provides very large bandwidth”.
Safeguards have been put in place for the tests, such as having a safety driver physically in the vehicle and a road marshal who can advise the public to stay clear.
The various Sentosa trials will not be done during weekends and peak hours when there are more visitors.
Some trials like those involving drones are in areas that are closed off to the public.