I've just got into balmy Singapore where I'll be visiting some technology companies over the next couple of days and touring a semiconductor fabrication plant run by chip-maker AMD. I'm looking forward to it.
Singapore really gets technology and how to encourage innovation and investment in the sci-tech area. Its Government is also keenly aware of how important good broadband infrastructure is and has a ten-year "master plan" to become number one in the world in "harnessing infocomm to add value to the economy and society".
Here's a flavour of what Singapore wants to achieve by 2015:
- A two-fold increase in the value-add of the information communications industry to S$26 billion.
- A three-fold increase in information communications export revenue to S$60 billion.
- Creation of 80,000 new jobs (55,000 in ICT).
- 90 per cent broadband penetration (currently 75.5 per cent).
- 100 per cent computer ownership in homes with school-going children.
The Singapore Government is currently considering proposals for fixed-line and wireless network upgrades that will underpin the 2015 strategy.
On the fixed-line side, it will be a public-private investment partnership on an open-access model funding a fibre network supporting IPv6 protocol and transfer speeds upwards of 1Gbps.
On the wireless side, the plan is to offer free basic 512Kbps wireless broadband in major commercial hubs and residential town centres and premium services from 1Mbps.
I'll be gauging local reaction to the Singapore Government's broadband plans over the next couple of days. Meantime, I'm digesting the 240 page OECD report on New Zealand's innovation policy - I got an advance copy but it should be posted here shortly.
The report gives us plenty of praise - we're an innovative country with world class expertise, particularly in agriculture and health science. But it also points to the major weaknesses in our approach to fostering innovation.
Take broadband for instance: "The relatively limited availability (e.g. compared to Australia) of broadband internet access at reasonable cost is a significant deterrent to the economy-wide diffusion of new technologies and knowledge, the efficient networking of geographically dispersed research and innovation activities, and the development of creative industries," the report notes.
Last week I reported on the concerns expressed in the 2007-2009 roadmap document for KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network).
Basically, KAREN's effectiveness will be hamstrung in the next couple of years by a lack of funding and coordination between its members. The OECD report brings home just how important KAREN is to improving our innovation game.
Then there's our research and development track record:
"New Zealand's total R&D intensity - the share of gross expenditure on research and development (GERD) in GDP - is 1.14 per cent, about half the OECD average of 2.25 per cent (2003). This puts New Zealand in the lower third of OECD countries.
New Zealand's level of business expenditure on R&D (BERD) - at 0.49 per cent of GDP - is even lower relative to the OECD average (1.53 per cent)."
Bottom line, our companies aren't doing enough R&D. Tax concessions on R&D announced in the budget may help improve that, but the OECD report signals a need for more broad-ranging policy change to foster innovation.
The answers aren't going to come easily or quickly, but the report is a good starting point for the Government to begin tackling the issues holding us back.