Why are we waiting?

For a country that constantly seeks to be number one in almost everything it does, Singapore is uncharacteristically slow in its efforts to put wireless capabilities in its public train network.Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway commuters will soon be able to enjoy Wi-Fi services as they wait or board the train.

For a country that constantly seeks to be number one in almost everything it does, Singapore is uncharacteristically slow in its efforts to put wireless capabilities in its public train network.

Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway commuters will soon be able to enjoy Wi-Fi services as they wait or board the train.

Already available on Japan's Tsukuba Express, wireless access services have yet to make their way into Singapore's MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train system. The country's Land Transport Authority early this year issued a Request for Information for a trainborne surveillance system, which contains a wireless component. But it's still uncertain if Wi-Fi on Singapore's trains will see the light of day and if commuters will have wireless Internet access.

It is true that there are currently challenges in providing ubiquitous Wi-Fi access across moving trains. For example, it can be tough to ensure consistent bandwidth as the train moves from one underground station to another. Even the vibration caused by moving carriages can prove tricky to ensure there is seamless connectivity.

However, it should be relatively easier to provide Wi-Fi access in the station itself.

Today, Singapore's MRT transports some 2 million commuters a day, where the waiting time for a train can take as long as 7 to 9 minutes, particularly during off-peak hours. It baffles me why commuters should be made to wait any more than three minutes for the next train, but I guess the train operator has a different definition of what it deems as good customer service.

If the operator persists in making commuters wait that long for their trains, then it should--at the very least--provide a way for them to make better use of their time.

The Singapore government has been thumping its chest over the success it has seen so far with Wireless@SG, its initiative to offer wireless broadband access islandwide. To date, there are 428,000 unique subscribers on Wireless@SG, with the average user spending 3.1 hours a month on the public wireless network. There are currently over 3,400 Wi-Fi hotspots across the island, a figure that is targeted to increase to 5,000 by September this year.

Isn't it time then for Singapore to include the public train system as a key priority in this quest to connect the entire island? Or otherwise, give commuters another form of distraction while they're made to wait what must seem like a lifetime for their trains to arrive.

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