The pilot launch of the Singapore One broadband communications network this week is being used by the Singapore Government to close the gap with its cheaper neighbour, Malaysia, which announced its ambitious plans to go hi-tech last year. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is promoting the country's 750 square kilometre Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Eddie Lee, an economist at Vickers Ballas (Singapore), said: 'In some ways the Malaysians have stolen the limelight from Singapore with the MSC. Singapore may still be ahead in practical terms, but with the MSC the Malaysians have taken the lead in terms of publicity.' Singapore has used Singapore One's launch as a chance to remind the world that it is technologically a few years ahead of its neighbour. 'Countries that can compete will flourish. Those that are unable to keep up with the changes will lag behind in prosperity,' Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said. It may be a technological breakthrough for the republic, but economists see it as a move required to secure Singapore's future competitiveness and prosperity. With Singapore becoming expensive and suffering a shortage of labour, it needs to rapidly develop its hi-tech industries. While Mr Mahathir has grand visions of the corridor taking Malaysia to the forefront of the communications and intellectual technology industry by 2020, Singapore's technological renaissance should happen more quickly. Due to its modest size, Singapore enjoys the advantage of being able to install new technology country-wide far faster than any of its neighbours. Dubbed its 'Information Technology 2000' plan and launched more than two years ago by the National Computer Board, the Singapore Government's aim is to wire up the entire city by 2000. An integral part of that is Singapore One, a broadband communication network that will operate like a national version of the Internet. Instead of using telephone lines it will operate through fibre-optic cables capable of carrying sound, video and text data far quicker than conventional telecommunications. Internet communications, for instance, will operate 100 times faster than through normal telephone lines. Computer connections will be instantaneous with cinema-quality moving images appearing at the click of a mouse. Users will be able to access the network through Singapore Telecom or Singapore Cable Vision via special modems linked to their computers for a monthly fee. About 5,000 homes across Singapore are to be given Singapore One on trial, with 800,000 hooked up by the end of next year. It is not just aimed at businesses or computer junkies, but largely at everyday people for use at home. It will offer a wide range of services from entertainment and shopping to government services and business. Communications Minister Mah Bow Tan said: 'Singapore One is not meant to be a new toy for computer wizards. 'It is for the man in the street to experience the conveniences that such a network can offer.' Singapore already boasts one of the highest information technology (IT) literacy rates in the world, but the government feels it cannot be complacent. As well as making Singapore a more attractive location for multi-national corporations, the government sees other business advantages. Speaking on Monday at the inaugural meeting of the Asian Multimedia Forum in Singapore, a ministry official said: 'Singapore One provides an excellent platform to build and implement new and leading edge technologies, as well as applications and services . . . Now the time has come for the involvement of the private sector.'