Singaporeans can view furniture through the Web site of Dynamic Furniture, order flowers through Katong Flower Shop and buy groceries from Cold Storage. At Nanyang Optical's 'virtual' shop, customers can try on sunglasses and spectacles - simply by sending a photograph. Virtual shopping is no longer a futuristic fantasy in the Lion City but a fact of life. And this is only the beginning. Many residents already go on-line to deal with government agencies, buy tickets, order taxis and pay bills. By the end of this year, all 800,000 households, along with schools, libraries and offices, will be able to connect to Singapore ONE, the world's first nationwide broadband network offering the most advanced Internet technology available anywhere. Singapore ONE is a national 'one network for everyone' initiative to give people a new level of interactive, multimedia applications and services - and a key component of the national IT 2000 vision. The plan is for everyone to eventually have access to entertainment and news-on-demand, distance learning, on-line shopping, video conferencing and government services, music downloads, multi-user games and video e-mail. The network's high capacity and high-speed platform enables it to carry content that is richer, more exciting and stimulating, more interactive and truly multimedia than standard platforms like the Internet (which is 100 times slower) or CD-ROMs. 'Singapore ONE's ability to deliver advanced applications better and faster than anything currently available means that users can truly experience a whole new world,' Ng Kin Yee, an assistant director at the National Computer Board (NCB), said. Shopping is a case in point. A recent study predicted that, as a result of Singapore ONE, Internet shopping would increase four-fold over the next six months. 'The emergence of e-commerce is transforming the way businesses are conducted in Singapore,' Stephen Yeo, chief executive of the NCB, said. 'The possibilities for new business opportunities are limitless. We recognise this and want to position Singapore as an international electronic commerce hub. 'The Internet is set to become the de facto way of communication in the 21st century. Just as we cannot imagine how businesses were run without telephones and faxes, Internet and e-mail have become part and parcel of the way we communicate and a source for information.' According to a report by International Data Corporation, the number of Internet subscribers in Singapore will rise 1.5 million by 2001. Only six per cent of subscribers have so far used the shopping facility. But a survey has found that 26 per cent are prepared to try it within the next six months. Sales are forecast to reach US$800 million by 2001. But it is not only on-line commerce that is taking Singapore to the forefront of the E revolution. With the boundless business, entertainment and education possibilities, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said at the launch of Singapore ONE: 'It is the start of a whole new way of working, living and learning.' Michael Yap, deputy chief executive of the NCB, suggested electronic commerce would in time become as crucial to businesses as phones and faxes. 'It's still at a relatively early stage of development,' he said. 'However, we expect electronic commerce to take-off at an accelerated rate.' Singapore's efforts to establish an infrastructure conducive to e-commerce has already attracted global electronics giants like Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Gemplus, Siemens and NEC. Mr Yap expected many others to follow in their wake, while the development was forecast to produce knock-on benefits for many of Singapore's other hub activities, including its port. Even Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is impressed. On a recent visit, he enthused: 'Among all the countries in the world, Singapore is the leader in developing the infrastructure for what I call the digital nervous system and the Web lifestyle . . . a world leader in the development of interactive applications'.