History of internet in Singapore – from niche toy to must-have essential
The internet – we rely on it for everything from work (especially when working from home), entertainment (video streaming, mindless surfing, you name it), and even sustenance (hands up if your guilty pleasure is ordering bubble tea delivery).
How did this cyberspace make its way to our shores and change our lives forever? We’re hopping into a time machine to trace its journey from niche toy to ubiquitous tool. Only have 2 minutes? You can watch the video below too!
Short on time? Catch this video to find out how the internet landscape changed in Singapore.
1987 – Connection to Bitnet, internet’s precursor
Take this as the prequel to the internet’s origin story. Bitnet was a network connecting over 600 computers in academic institutions – mostly in the US, Canada, and Europe. In 1987, Singapore’s National University of Singapore linked up to Bitnet.
NUS would go on to play a central role in bringing the internet to Singapore. It established the country’s first connection to the internet in 1990. A year later, NUS began operating Technet, which connected R&D and academic institutions. But even as things were picking up pace, such digital communication did not touch the lives of the vast majority of Singaporeans.
1994 – Dawn of internet for the masses
For most of us, this was the year it all began. Singtel launched SingNet, which offered public access to the internet as well as an email service. If you ever come across some weird email address ending in “singnet.com.sg”, you’re looking at an early adopter in Singapore.
Two other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would enter the fray in quick succession: Pacific Internet in 1995 and Cyberway in 1996, shaking up the landscape to the benefit of consumers.
These were also the days of dial-up modems and their tell-tale connecting tone (imagine R2-D2 with a sore throat and cold) while connecting through the home phone landline. Older millennials no doubt remember your folks screaming at you to “stop messing with the computer” so that they could make a call (yeah, handphones were rare back then too. Truly the Dark Ages).
1998 – Need for speed as broadband launched
After a year-long successful pilot programme, the Singapore One national broadband network was commercially launched and gradually rolled out to households. The buzzwords then were “cable” or “ADSL”, the two ways to enjoy surfing speeds more than 100 times faster than a dial-up connection. Singapore CableVision (SCV) provided the cable service that also incorporated cable TV services, while Singtel ran the ADSL network through phone lines.
While take up was slow at the beginning, Singapore eventually became one of the countries with the highest broadband penetration rates, with more than nine out of ten residential households having broadband connection.
Both cable and ADSL began losing popularity and were eventually decommissioned about two decades after their debut thanks to a new kid on the block: fibre broadband.
2006 – Cutting the cord with Wireless@SG
As accessing the internet on the go with laptops became increasingly important, the government launched Wireless@SG to deliver high speed wireless connectivity. Over the years, the programme was enhanced with faster surfing speeds and a more seamless login process using SIM card credentials or through the Wireless@SG app.
Today, there are over 6500 hotspots across the islands in locations such as shopping malls, schools, hospitals, MRT stations, hawker centres, and community centres.
2007 – Smartphone revolution begins
The smartphone’s instant popularity – fuelled in part by the iPhone – changed the way we use the internet. Seemingly overnight, everyone was carrying a mini-computer with internet access in their pockets.
And while 3G services had been available since 2005, they never caught on until smartphones’ bigger screens and usage of apps became widespread and bred new habits.
Commutes became a chance to be lost in your own world, head bowed over a screen. Debates during lunch over what is the highest-grossing movie of all time were settled instantly by whipping up the smartphone and checking Wikipedia.
2013 – Fibre broadband points in every home
Fibre broadband, the current broadband network in Singapore, reached the milestone of nationwide coverage in 2013, with the easily recognisable bright yellow optical fibre cables deployed to all residential and non-residential premises.
This infrastructure enabled truly fast and furious surfing speeds, with Singapore regularly topping “speediest internet lists”.
2013 – 4G nationwide coverage
Our smartphone addiction no doubt became more acute when all three telcos at that time – Singtel, M1, Starhub – achieved nationwide 4G coverage, making bandwidth intensive activities like streaming videos possible on the go.
To the future and beyond
What’s next for the internet in Singapore? The country is aiming to have nationwide 5G coverage by 2025. Boosting speed and coverage is essential to implementing Internet-of-Things (IoT) initiatives such as the smart lamppost project, equipping lampposts with sensors for better monitoring of environmental factors like rainfall and humidity.
As Singapore works towards becoming a Smart Nation, the internet will only continue to gain importance in our lives. We hope this trip down memory lane has been a nice nostalgic and informative one that lets you appreciate how far we have come, and how far we can go!https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/history-of-the-internet