[SMART CITY FOCUS] The Internet of Things imployement in a smart city : the Singapourian model

     The connected object market is one of the fastest growing segments of the Asia-Pacific technology industry. According to a Frost & Sullivan study, this market could reach $79 billion by 2020. The Internet of Things offers real opportunities in the development of smart cities, particularly in the fields of transport and logistics by providing innovative and sustainable connected solutions. In response to urban challenges (ageing population, massive urbanisation, increasing density…) and considerable technological changes, the Internet of Things solution appears as a necessary condition in the emergence of intelligent cities. This ecosystem, that of intelligent cities, is composed of a network of connected objects that communicate with each other. With excellent connectivity and state-of-the-art technological infrastructure, Singapore’s city-state also fears an explosion in the number of cyber attacks, increasingly impacting urban facilities and sensitive industries.
With its strategic positioning in a rapidly expanding geographical area, Singapore intends to maintain the three pillars on which it has built itself to attract ever more international investors: security, connectivity and efficiency. Since its independence in 1965, the City-state has defended the “Total Defence” security concept in a drive to modernize and acquire technology by the Singaporean government. The programme focuses on three major priorities: urban, maritime and cyber security. The government therefore set up the “Smart Nation” programme in 2014 in order to “coordinate the different verticals of the smart city policy“. The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) was established in May 2017 under the direct leadership of the Prime Minister of Singapore to develop and lead all action plans for the government’s digital transformation and to build long-term public sector capacity.

What are the links between IoT and smart city? What impact do connected objects have in building a smart city?

    Smart cities are at the heart of a transformation process and serve citizens and industries. The Internet of Things market is evolving from a market where the focus is on connecting devices to a market where the information collected is used to create new services. This model is changing the way businesses market their products and services. To support this smart city project, the government has created GovTech, a government agency that aims to source and exploit new smart city technologies used by different ministries. The deployment and security of connected objects is part of the Smart Nation Sensor Platform (2017). The program promotes the use of connected objects to improve Singapore’s quality of life, including the deployment of a nationwide sensor network with common infrastructure and services such as a data sharing gateway.

Singapore is particularly well positionned to lead the way in transforming itself into a Smart Nation. Nevertheless, the city-state benefits from a particular system of governance that simplifies the process of implementing smart city plans. It allows it to set up public initiatives more quickly than another state by emancipating itself from administrative complexities (hybrid regime, unicameral parliament and single party in power since 1959). In a smart city, the Internet of Things enables connected infrastructures to meet urban needs such as population growth (5.5 million inhabitants) or environmental constraints, thanks to technologies such as connected sensors. The illustration and demonstration of the connected objects can therefore be established in the city. If an exhaust emitting car idles at a red light, for example, the traffic lights activated by different connected sensors may turn green if the intersection is clear.

How is Singapore developing the Internet of Things?

   The city-state has the highest mobile penetration rate in the world (140% in 2014). Through the development of its smart city, Singapore sees in the IoT, a new set of digital services bringing opportunities. By 2020, the number of objects connected to Singapore will be estimated at 6.6 per capita (4 for China). The city is taking advantage of two major technological opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, namely mobile payments and e-commerce. Between 2015 and 2020, for ASEAN, the e-commerce segment is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of 23 per cent and will be valued at nearly $20 billion. In addition, mobile payments will account for more than 10% of total transactions in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. Of these countries, Singapore is expected to show the strongest growth.

The main national strategic projects of the SNDGO include, among others, the creation of a national digital network, an identity framework to facilitate digital transactions, the development of a national sensor, a platform with a common infrastructure and analysis capabilities for public agencies. The island is also a pioneer in IoT connection and networks. 95% of the island is covered by the Sigfox network (in association with ENGIE and UniBiz), the first national IoT network in Southeast Asia, since the end of 2017. This network significantly improves energy efficiency, infrastructure management and support for more than 100 million connected devices, while ensuring a high level of reliability and security.

IoT connectivity is an essential element for a smart city but also for Singapore industry. Since the beginning of 2018, the city has also been equipped with an LTE 4G Narrow Band IoT network provided by the Singtel operator in preparation for the arrival of the 5G in 2020. In partnership with Ericsson, Singtel IoT handles the CAT M1 and NB-IoT to provide complete wireless coverage and multiple connections. This will increase the battery life of connected objects to at least 10 years. This service, dedicated to businesses, significantly increases the connectivity capabilities of the city and allows devices to interact with each other, independent of the service provider or technology.

Finally, in order to increase citizen and government security, Gemalto, world leader in digital security, deployed its “Coesys eGov Authentication Server” solution. This service provides “two-factor authentication (2FA) and end-to-end encryption of passwords to secure connections to the Singapore Personal Access portal“. Thus SingPass platform users will be able to benefit from enhanced security to access online government services involving sensitive data.

Which approach to adopt by the singapourian government in the Internet of Things implementation in the city ? 

    The Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, discussed again his vision of IoT deployment at the “IoT Asia 2018” forum in Singapore. The Singapore government’s approach to implementing IoT in its smart city is such that it calls for open standards that would allow technology providers to develop products and services based on them. Singapore has already embarked on conducting open IoT standards. Since 2013, an IoT technical committee under government supervision has been developing core Internet of Things standards in the areas of architecture, interoperability, security and data protection.

Four IoT standards have already been published to guide the deployment of sensor networks in public areas and homes, as well as to facilitate information sharing and improve detection capabilities across services and devices. As such, industry groups such as the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) have formed to develop IoT specifications that help connected object providers ensure proper operation. In March 2017, OCF collaborated with the Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association to promote the adoption of its IoT specification among small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups in Singapore. During this forum, Balakrishnan highlighted security issues and the integration of security (often neglected) in IoT products and services upstream for manufacturers. The deployment of the IoT in a smart city is demonstrated in particular by the improvement in safety, quality but also in the scope and reliability of public services.

Which risks assessment ?

   According to the Singapore Cyber Security Agency (CSA), in 2016, Singapore experienced 17 cyber attacks (reported) compared to only 2 in 2015. In order to consolidate its status as a regional hub, Singapore needs to ensure a stable and secure digital environment. Singapore is one of the “Cyber-Five” countries and is 9 times more vulnerable to cyber attacks than the other economies in the zone. This number of attacks can be explained by its hyper-connectivity, the number of headquarters and the large datacenters of multinationals in the city. The government now has two specialised agencies: the Cyber Security Agency (CSA), responsible for combating cyber attacks, and the Defence Cyber Organisation. CSA has defined a new strategy complementary to the National Cybersecurity Masterplan 2018 managed by GovTech, for securing the ICT environment. It is based on four pillars:

– More resilient infrastructure
– A safer cyberspace (National Cybercrime Action Plan)
– A dynamic ecosystem with the launch of a National Cybersecurity R&D programme
– Strengthening international partnerships

    This last point is illustrated by the launch of the ASEAN Cyber Capacity Programme in 2017 with SGD 10 million to strengthen network security in ASEAN countries. These measures are taking place in a context where “85% of Singaporean CIOs expect an increase in cyber attacks linked in particular to the lack of IT security professionals“. The increasing use of mobile devices and the progressive spread of the Internet of Things will offer attack vectors and increase the risks of successful attacks. With the continued convergence of operational technology and information technology, attackers will have a greater impact than before. A subsidiary of the maritime supply chain management company BH Holdings was hit by ransomware and about 3000 files with account data were infected. In response to the attack, the company also invested in cyber insurance and initiated cyber security training sessions for staff. Attackers tend to target companies more than individuals because of their handling of sensitive information. A subsidiary of Singapore-based insurer AXA was also the victim of a private and sensitive data leak following a hacker infiltration in October 2017. CSA, which tends to minimize the number of attacks, reported only 17 reported cyber attacks, but according to Symantec’s report on threats to Internet security, there were an average of 16 ransom attacks per day in Singapore in 2016.


    The deployment of the Internet of Things is a cornerstone in the Smart Nation program. It remains an indispensable element in the construction and development of a smart City that requires a technological intelligence base. In the city of Singapore, the Internet of Things enables technologies to converge to meet urban challenges with integrated ecosystems. The deployment of the IoT in a city meets human and industrial needs. The Singapore Smart Nation model is one of the first of its kind with such a major IoT deployment at the heart of the Smart Nation process. The installation of objects connected to the heart of a city, participates in its digital transformation and technological evolution. Nevertheless, Singapore is one of the most fragile economies in terms of cyber attacks due to its digitalisation. Singapore is an open economy with “hyper connectivity”. It is a major international hub for trade, finance and logistics. The impact of a (large-scale) cyber attack against Singapore could be fatal to its regional economy and much more broadly to its global economy. The annual record of cyber attacks that the city displays, tends to be minimized so as to contain or “censor” the panic of investors and citizens. Although the government continues to make its city and its IoTs increasingly secure, they remain vulnerable and the target of cyber-attackers.