Singapore pilots solar-powered outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots

The year-long trial at Singapore's island resort, Sentosa, taps the use of solar energy to power outdoor public Wi-Fi networks, eliminating the need for costly and tedious trenching work.

Singapore has kicked off a year-long pilot using solar energy to power outdoor public Wi-Fi hotspots on its southern island resort, Sentosa.

If determined to be feasible, the deployment would be extended to other parts of the city-state and support the national public Wi-Fi network, Wireless@SG, according to the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

The local ICT regulator said the "Green Wi-Fi" pilot was deployed this week at Sentosa's Merlion Walk and would be extended to other test areas on the island resort during the course of the one-year trial.

Announced at this year's imbX conference and exhibition, the initiative would see solar energy being used to power access points deployed at the outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots. The objective here would be to assess the cost-effectiveness as well as the impact on connectivity and network performance of using this power source.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said during his opening address at the conference: "Traditionally, deploying Wi-Fi outdoors has been difficult and costly due to the trenching works required. As such, most of the Wireless@SG hotspots are indoors.

"If this pilot is successful, we could potentially expand Wireless@SG to reach more outdoor areas in a sustainable manner and bring the public Wi-Fi coverage in Singapore to the next level," Yaacob said.

Trenching works typically are needed to lay outdoor cables to deliver power or network connectivity to Wi-Fi equipment. With network connectivity transmitted between cell stations using microwave signals, the use of solar energy could eliminate the need to lay power lines and, hence, the need for any trenching work.

IDA's assistant chief executive, Khoong Hock Yun, explained that solar-powered outdoor Wi-Fi deployments were estimated to be five times faster, and could yield up to 50 percent cost savings, compared to traditional outdoor deployments.

Intelligence also had been built into the system so power could be better managed to stretch the use of the network equipment, before it would need to be charged again, Khoong said, pointing to the use of technology from SkyLab Networks, one of several industry players involved in the trial.

SkyLab CTO Sean Kim told ZDNet its outdoor Wi-Fi system was integrated with a proprietary software to monitor and tweak the equipment according to various factors that could impact its energy consumption. If rain, for instance, had been forecast for the latter part of the day, the system could be alerted to conserve energy in the hours leading up to the downpour when there would likely be insufficient sunlight to power the device.

To further conserve energy, Wi-Fi signals also could be turned off during the night where no users would be expected at a beach at Sentosa, for example, and access to that particular public hotspot would not be required.

Kim added that such intelligence in battery management was essential to ensure network availability and address its customer's stated requirements and service level agreements.

SkyLab's solar-powered outdoor Wi-Fi system can store 2.4 kilowatts of energy at full charge, which is obtained after four hours, and are integrated with solar panels provided by Singapore-based solar energy provider, Sunseap Group.

Apart from SkyLab, local mobile operator M1 and Aruba Networks also are involved in the Green Wi-Fi trial at Sentosa, which is scheduled to complete in September 2017.

Sentosa Development Corporation and IDA would evaluate test results, which would be shared publicly when available during the course of the trial, Khoong said, adding that other telcos could be roped in should the decision be made to extend the deployment to the main island. This, he said, would depend on the test results to ensure the resiliency and viability of the deployment.

Aside from the trenching work required, outdoor Wi-Fi networks also face more challenges compared to indoor deployments as the former are more susceptible to signal interference, particularly in areas crowded with buildings and skyscrapers.

This makes Sentosa a more conducive location to testbed the technology since the island resort is "flatter" and less dense, compared to the main island. There are currently more than 200 Wireless@SG hotspots on Sentosa itself, as well as more than 10,000 across Singapore. IDA is targeting to push this number to 20,000 by 2018.