Singapore launches two projects in move toward becoming an electronic society

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Singapore has begun its move toward becoming an electronic society. Five banks are jointly launching an experimental electronic payments project to encourage ``cashless shopping'' as part of a government program for greater efficiency and productivity.

At the same time, the local telecommunications authority has found a partner to help it get a $230 million ``teleview'' project under way by the early 1990s. This will allow Singaporeans to shop, bank, and play games by means of their television sets.

Both projects should be viewed in the context of Singapore's ambitions to be the leading banking and communications center of the Asia-Pacific region.

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The banks will initiate an electronic-funds-transfer-at-point-of-sale system with a target of 1 million users out of Singapore's 2.5 million population.

Through a computer-linked terminal in a store, funds to cover any purchase will be transferred almost immediately from a customer's account through a central-bank clearinghouse into the merchant's account.

The objective is to have the system installed at most stores within a few years. Initially it will cover about 50 large stores. The banks are dreaming of the day when they will have up to 10,000 terminals in retail stores, supermarkets, and gas stations hooked into the system.

At the same time, the government telecommunications authority, Telecoms, and its British partner Marconi have agreed ``to develop the most modern videotex system in the world.'' The system that will allow residents to shop, bank, send letters, and play games from their armchairs via the television set.

The partners plan a two-year trial, involving 1,000 households and beginning in either 1987 or early 1988. If all goes well, the rest of the country may be plugged in by the early 1990s. The island provides an ideal environment for perfecting such a system because most people here live in high-rise apartment blocks that can easily be linked up into a network.

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