Archive for October, 2006

Free Islandwide Wifi

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Singapore, one giant hotspot
Singapore takes a big step in the infocomm age with free WiFi for 2 years from January

Christie Loh

FROM January, the information age will have another free conduit in Singapore, which allows wireless access to the Internet from almost anywhere on the island. All a person would need is a laptop or mobile phone that can detect Wireless Fidelity (WiFi), a technology that transmits data via radio signals.

Free connectivity will first cover areas with high human traffic, such as Orchard Road and the Central Business District (CBD), before reaching thousands of other designated public areas by September next year.

This zero-dollar unlimited-usage offer will last three years, say SingTel and iCell Network, whose proposals beat six other bi dders. As for QMax Communications — the third chosen operator — it is unsure if it will offer free surfing beyond the stipulated two years. “It will depend on the market environment at that stage, as well as what the other operators are offering then,” QMax director Alex Tan told Today.

After those “free” years, access is still expected to remain “highly affordable”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, during a gala dinner to celebrate the nation’s 25 years of infocomm development.Though the free wireless initiative was greeted with widespread appreciation, telecoms analysts say that people should not ditch their broadband subscriptions as yet, as the public network may raise some security and quality issues.

The free package is for Internet access speeds of up to 512 kilobits per second (kbps), which is 10 times faster than dial-up connections, although slower than SingTel’s fixed broadband service, which can go up to 25,000kbps, and StarHub’s MaxOnline and Pacific Internet, which can reach speeds of 30,000kbps. Those craving higher speeds on the wireless networks can pay for that service, say the companies, who will reveal details in December. The free service will enable users to surf seamlessly throughout the country’s 5,000 “hotzones” regardless of the service provider. For instance, SingTel has been designated to run the WiFi network in the northern parts, including Bishan and Orchard Road. But Internet access in those areas will be open to subscribers of iCell or QMax.

However, Singaporeans should not expect to easily gain free WiFi access from their home. The hotzones are designed to cover public areas, such as HDB town centres and bus interchanges. Even if a flat falls within the wired area, the free broadband connection may not be what the user is accustomed to, said Mr Victor Liu, industry analyst of In-Stat, a market research firm. He explained that the signal strength depends on location and the number of people sharing one access point. What is more, there are limits to what WiFi can do, Mr Liu said.

“When you are moving, you can’t go online. You have to stay at a table in a coffeeshop. So you can’t expect to use WiFi to make mobile calls,” he told Today. Also, a free network may create concerns about “hackers”, said Mr Liu. Although passwords could provide some protection, workers handling sensitive information may be hesitant to log onto the public network, Mr Liu said. For this reason, he believes homes and businesses will not look to terminate their fixed broadband and mobile subscriptions once the wireless broadband service is launched.

However, Mr Liu said the long-distance call businesses of SingTel, StarHub, and MobileOne might suffer slightly. This is because the wireless operators will be offering unlimited calls over the Web, which is also known as Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP), as long as a mobile phone or laptop is WiFi-enabled. It is by offering Web-based services such as VoIP and video content that the WiFi operators are hoping to snare subscribers and make money, the three companies said at a media briefing.

The WiFi infrastructure is estimated to cost a total of $100 million, of which $30 million will be subsidised by the Government. Strategically, the infrastructure investment will reinforce Singapore as a place to do business, said telecoms consultant Mike Connors. Aside from wiring up the country, the Government will work to help certain groups of Singaporeans jump on the infocomm bandwagon, said Mr Lee. About 10,000 low-income households with schoolchildren or disabled family members will pay under $300 to get a brand new desktop computer with three years of free SingNet broadband access. In the first quarter of next year, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports will have set up an Infocomm Accessibility centre, that will provide the disabled with industry-relevant apprenticeship programmes and suitable technology tools. The elderly also have a part in the grand plans. They can attend workshops on how to use web-based applications including Instant Messaging and online mahjong, as well as new hobbies such as digital photography.

“We must create digital opportunities for all Singaporeans, and never allow a digital divide in our society,” said Mr Lee.
Singapore takes a big step in the infocomm age with free WiFi for 2 years from January

(Extracted from Today, 11 Oct 2006)

The Life Science Conudrum

Monday, October 9th, 2006

After the hype, grads now realise that there’s no place for them in the

Loh Chee Kong

IN 2002, when Singapore universities had barely begun producing their own life sciences graduates, Mr Philip Yeo, chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), famously rattled those unndergraduates when he said that they would only be qualified to wash test tubes.

But four years on, armed with their Bachelor’s degree, some of these graduates are learning the truth of his words the hard way. Many from the first cohort have ended up in junior research positions or manufacturing
and sales jobs in the industry – positions that do not require a life sciences degree. Others find themselves completely out of the field.

Said Edmund Lim, 27, who graduated two years ago, and now works as a property agent: “One of my classmates is working illegally in Australia, peddling psychotropic drugs to clubbers. Many of my classmates have gone into teaching. Others are in pharmaceutical or equipment sales.”

Another life sciences graduate, who declined to be named, found a job recently at a tuition centre, after failing to land research-related positions for over a year despite numerous job applications.

Already an established base for pharmaceutical manufacturing, Singapore has been trying, in the past five ears, to move beyond manufacturing to more high-end research that is “value-added”.

According to the industry’s annual reviews compiled by A*Star and the Economic Development Board’s Biomedical Sciences Group (EDB BMSG), an average of a thousand new jobs were created annually for the past five years. Last year, there were 10,200 manufacturing jobs in the industry, almost doubling the 5,700 jobs created in the then-fledgling sector in 2001. By 2015, EDB targets the number of such jobs to hit 15,000.

But the booming figures mask a Catch-22 situation: The current shortage of PhD holders in the biomedical sciences cluster is hampering Singapore’s bid to attract multinational companies to move their high-end research projects here. Without a PhD, most of Singapore’s life sciences graduates are only qualified to work as research assistants.

And both graduates and diploma holders vie for these positions that could pay less than $2,000 a month. In the industry’s manufacturing sector, life sciences graduates compete against their peers from other general sciences and engineering disciplines. They face even stiffer competition in the sales sector, where paper qualifications take on less significance.

A*Star’s Biomedical Research Council oversees and coordinates public sector biomedical research and development activities. On the surplus of life sciences graduates, its executive director Dr Beh Swan Gin told Today: “It is not a situation that can be easily communicated, as there are many factors involved. Simply put, a PhD is essential for progress as a researcher. And there are still not enough Singaporeans pursuing PhD studies.”

Adding that the local universities should not pander to the students’ demand for the subject, Dr Beh said: “The job market of today and tomorrow, is the market the universities should focus on. The manufacturing and commercial jobs have always been there, albeit there are more of these now. NUS (National University of Singapore) and NTU (Nanyang Technological University) should get better data on the demand for life science graduates at the Bachelor’s degree level.”

In 2001, NUS’ Science Faculty rolled out an integrated life sciences curriculum and NTU started its School of Biological Sciences (SBS) a year later. Meanwhile, the polytechnics also introduced more life sciences courses. Thousands of students jumped on the bandwagon, with demand outstripping the supply of places in these courses.

Professor Tan Eng Chye, NUS’ Dean of Science – who believes that it could take another five years for the industry to establish itself – acknowledged that his school’s intake of life sciences undergraduates was “a bit too high”.

“When we started offering a major in life sciences in 2001, 550 students took up the programme. For the subsequent intakes, the number stabilised at about 450. But we would be more comfortable with about a hundred less,” said Prof Tan, who added that many students were “unrealistic” about their job prospects.

Said Prof Tan: “A lot of students were probably all hyped up to look for R&D jobs. And when they can’t get such jobs, they could be disappointed. If they want to do research, they should further their studies.”

Nonetheless, some headhunters, like Kelly Services’ Lita Nithiyanandan, predict that it is “only a matter of time” before these “highly valued” graduates find willing employers. Said Ms Nithiyanandan: “As most of these multinational life sciences companies have recently set up or moved their R&D centres to Singapore, they require senior and experienced research professionals at this stage to streamline operations and get compounds approved fast for clinical trials. Once these centres are more established they will definitely need fresh graduates for researching new compounds.”

She added: “Overall, Singapore’s biomedical scene is evolving as a mature hub for Asia Pacific. This would create opportunities across the board for skill sets through the value chain from fresh graduates to mid-level research and analysts to high-end PhD professionals.”