The South East Asia Commonwealth (SEACOM) submarine cable system (commissioned in 1967) and the two satellite earth stations in Sentosa (commissioned in 1971 and 1974) provided foundations for an efficient and reliable telecommunications infrastructure with diversified routes, linking users in Singapore to their global business partners . This contributed substantially to Singapore’s success story. They catered to the needs of the public and private sectors for business and leisure.
Prior to the establishment of submarine cables and satellite systems, three other main components of telecommunication infrastructure were also established and in use, namely:
a. High-frequency (HF) radio communications for long-range (over 1600 km) and medium-range (80 km to 1600 km) radio-telephone services were operated by Telecommunications Department and used by the public and shipping industry from the 1940s to the 1970s.
b. Very-high-frequency (VHF) radio communications and telex services were developed and offered to government departments and business users. VHF radio communications from the 1940s to the 1970s were mainly used for short-range telephone communications such as mobile telephone services for cars and launches – covering land, ship-to-shore, off-shore islands and lighthouses, vehicles of government departments and statutory organisations , and inter-city trunk circuits between Singapore and Federation of Malaya. Radio receiving and transmitting towers were erected at vantage points in Singapore like Mount Faber , Bukit Timah, Mount Pleasant, and Fort Canning .
With the arrival of cellular mobile telephone technologies, VHF radio-communication towers, except those on Bukit Timah Hill, are no longer in use and have been demolished.
c. The telex service – where a copy of the message was printed on teleprinters at both the sending and receiving points – provided a fast means of business communication. International telex services were introduced in Malaya and Singapore in April 1959 with operators connecting telex calls manually. International telex traffic grew rapidly and the service became available to 126 countries in 1971. To speed up call connections, TAS commissioned a computerised telex-switching system in 1974, the first operator in the region to provide automatic international telex services .
Follow this story to learn how the early investment in developing an efficient and reliable telecommunications infrastructure transformed Singapore from a trading post to a manufacturing hub and, subsequently, a key financial and service centre.