Wi-Fi a means to attract public commuters

Despite mobile broadband availability in Singapore, public transportation operators could offer free Wi-Fi onboard to differentiate their service and attract commuters, say observers.

Even in countries such as Singapore which have a high penetration rate of mobile broadband users, free Wi-Fi is still appealing, and public transportation operators should use that to attract commuters.

According to statistics released by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), 4.7 million of the country's 4.9 million people are subscribed to a wireless broadband service.

But an analyst thinks Wi-Fi will still be a welcome service onboard buses and subway trains, in spite of the availability of mobile broadband.

Bryan Wang, Asia-Pacific connectivity research director at Springboard Research, said in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia that Wi-Fi typically provides a faster and more stable link compared to 3G or 3.5G cellular broadband.

The one or two hours spent commuting is also good time for users to get online, and complements the government's push for ubiquitous Internet services to Singapore's population, Wang said.

He noted additionally, that a bus or train's Wi-Fi service may be riding on cellular broadband, but will still be more reliable than a user connecting via a mobile device or dongle because the Internet receiver installed in the carriage would be more powerful.

Public transportation companies could therefore use Wi-Fi as a competitive differentiator, said Wang.

Singapore-based magazine editor Lisa Cheong said she welcomes the provision of Wi-Fi on public transportation, and would be encouraged to choose one transportation service over a competitor if Wi-Fi is provided.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, she said Wi-Fi would be especially useful in situations where 3G reception is spotty, such as on the underground subway network. Cheong, who has a mobile data subscription, pointed out that she would choose Wi-Fi in such scenarios for the more stable connection offered.

She added, however, that a big deterrent to using Wi-Fi on public transportation would be a cumbersome log-in process. Compared to Hong Kong's public Wi-Fi service, Singapore's Wireless@SG's log-in process is a turn-off.

Wireless@SG requires users to be registered and log into hotspots, while Hong Kong's GovWiFi hotspots allow new users access upon accepting a set of terms and conditions.

Singapore's SBS Transit bus company last year outfitted one of its buses with a Wi-Fi access point, supported by mobile broadband. Its parent company, ComfortDelGro, could not respond to ZDNet Asia in time, with regard to possible plans to extend the service to more buses.

A spokesperson from competing operator, SMRT, which operates buses, subway trains and taxis in the country, said the company is exploring ways to equip its transportation services with Internet connectivity.

In Taiwan, a fleet of 1,000 cabs outfitted with WiMax receivers were rolled out earlier this month by M-Taxi. According to reports, the cabs do not allow users to use their own mobile devices, but provide a touch-based user console for light surfing.