As the telecom regulator, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) will continue to ensure that operators put in place measures to enhance the resiliency and robustness of their networks, especially for key services.
Mr Leong Keng Thai (pictured), Director-General Telecoms, IDA, said this at a briefing on network resiliency in Singapore, in the wake of a fire at SingTel’s exchange building in Bukit Panjang in early October. The incident damaged fibre cables, disrupting mobile, broadband and pay-TV services for several days.
Leong noted that there is already diversity in Singapore’s telecom networks, and this contributes to their resiliency. “We have multiple operators, multiple networks, different technology platforms providing a variety of services from fixed lines to mobile lines that businesses and consumers can choose from depending on their needs,” he said.
For example, different operators offer different core and access networks using different technology platforms such as copper (ADSL), coaxial cables, optical fibre, wireless, and mobile. There is also physical diversity with different exchanges located all over Singapore, and a mesh architecture where exchanges are inter-linked and connected with spare capacity to enable a switch to another connection when one goes down.
However, there is always room for improvement to enhance the resiliency especially at the different levels: operators, service providers as well as end users, said Mr Leong.
Resiliency refers to the network’s ability to adapt and continue functioning when faced with incidents that could impact service delivery, while robustness refers to the ability to withstand such incidents.
Ultimately, resiliency planning is a balance between risk management and cost, to operators and end users. At the network level, operators or service providers must have built-in redundancies – backup equipment and resources that can be activated in the event that the primary systems go down – and spare capacity in their network.
End users, especially business end users who operate critical operations, can also take action at their end to enhance service resiliency based on their needs. For example, they can buy services from different service providers with network infrastructure, or buy services from the same service provider that could provide different network diversities to the user such as different cable routing or exchange diversity. This should be part of their overall business continuity planning, just like they would do for essential utilities such as power and water, said Mr Leong.
He also pointed out that resiliency does not mean zero incident, as accidents do happen. It also does not necessarily mean automatic failover – that is, having a spare set of equipment and wires or cables to provide services when an outage happens - which will add to business costs and have implications for end users as well.
“What’s critical is that when incidents happen, operators must do all they can to ensure swift service recovery and take measures to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” said Leong. During incidents such as outages at a national level, all operators need to pull together their resources and work towards restoring services in the shortest possible time.
IDA will be reviewing the Telecom Resiliency Code to ensure its relevance with today’s telecommunication service and market. The Telecom Resiliency Code requires licensees to take proactive measures to ensure that there is sufficient redundancy and resiliency in their telecommunication networks to prevent the occurrence of service incidents, otherwise they may face hefty financial penalties.
Following every service disruption, the operators will have to inform IDA of the rectification measures that they will be putting in place to strengthen the resiliency and robustness of their networks and ensure that similar incidents do not recur. IDA may also require operators to make changes to their rectification plans if necessary.
IDA will also be implementing a new audit framework to review the resiliency of the mobile networks and will be working closely with the mobile operators to enhance resiliency and minimise possible disruptions to consumers and businesses.
In its continuing review of Singapore’s telecommunications infrastructure, it will be looking closely at how resiliency is being implemented in all critical parts of Singapore’s infocomm infrastructure. The findings will be captured in the new audit framework.