Pushing Boundaries with 5G

17 Jul 2023

Picture yourself in the shoes of a commander – simply by donning on a Mixed Reality (MR) headset, a 3D map materialises in front of you, with live video feeds from remotely piloted drones unmanned systems. An alert ping, showing real-time footage of a suspicious figure who had been loitering at several locations within and beyond your area of patrol. Having devised a strategy with your colleague via the virtual command post, you transfer control of your unmanned asset to your teammate to commence the operation – all with a few clicks and swish motions on the virtual interface.

Sounds like a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie?

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(Left) Director Infocomm Infrastructure Leong See Sum trying on the MR headset, (Right) Visual representation of the 3D map.

This was in fact, one of the use cases trialled by DSTA and HTX (Home Team Science and Technology Agency) to assess the reliability of 5G’s connectivity for potential defence and homeland security operations, which would require exchange of real-time, high-volume critical information between ground users and command centres. Leveraging 5G with robotics, DSTA and HTX engineers worked together to explore ways to improve situational awareness, response and enable immersive inter-agency collaboration – areas common to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team.

Conducted from October 2022 to June 2023, the DSTA-HTX joint trial was part of the 5G@Sentosa testbed, a public-private sector collaboration led by Government Technology Agency, the Sentosa Development Corporation and Singtel, which enables public-sector agencies to trial 5G use cases to improve operational effectiveness and deliver citizen-centric services. The joint trial was also supported by ST Engineering.

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The trials were conducted with both unmanned land (left) and aerial (right) vehicles.

A key highlight of the joint trial tested a concept unique to 5G networks, known as “network slicing”. This technology allows for the creation of dedicated virtual network slices on a single physical network. Depending on the needs and priority level, mission-critical applications could be assigned to specific network slices, working much like a bus lane during peak hours. Apart from the dedicated resources, assured bandwidth and network reliability even in high traffic areas, the technology is also cost-efficient with the sharing of a single physical network, optimising the use of hardware resources.

Technology solutions continue to be the force multiplier for ground forces to remain effective and to optimise manpower deployment, especially for large area coverage. Employing low latency 5G technology thus enables command centres to remotely control multiple unmanned systems, improving situational awareness while maximising allocation of resources. Moreover, the trial has also shown the feasibility of adopting readily available commercial services to ensure greater operational flexibility and faster system set-up times, which will in turn boost the confidence of on-the-ground officers for future applications.

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Programme Manager (Digital Platforms) Chua Xi Hong (in green polo) sharing more about the joint trial to journalists during the media demo.

“We have seen promising results from the joint trial, but this is just the beginning,” shared Head Capability Development (Data Network, 5G & IoT) Leow Kian Siang. “As network slicing is a relatively new piece of technology, more rigorous testing will need to be conducted for any potential applications.”

The team attributes the success of the joint trial to the tight ops-tech collaboration between the respective ministries, agencies and industry experts in exploiting 5G to its fullest potential. Reflecting on the overall experience, Deputy Head (5G) Ho Yeow Ann shared, “It was a demanding, but equally rewarding journey. I’m keen to see what the future holds, as the results from the trials promises an exciting turn towards revolutionising the way we safeguard our homeland.”

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The DSTA and HTX team behind the successful joint trial.