Wireless@SG: A cuppa to success?

Singapore's free wireless broadband service is most accessed at fast food outlets and cafés, but food and beverage stores are mixed on how the scheme has helped.

What's fast food got to do with going online? Plenty, it seems, when it comes to Singapore's Wireless@SG users.

According to a poll on the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA)-run Infocomm123 Web site, more than two-thirds of the 76 respondents said they access the Wireless@SG service at fast food and café outlets. About 13 percent picked community clubs and libraries as their preferred venue for accessing Wireless@SG and 7 percent chose shopping centers.

Launched in 2006, Wireless@SG is a national broadband initiative of Singapore's ICT industry regulator, the IDA. It allows individuals to surf for free at hotspots located island-wide. QMax Communications, iCell network and SingTel are the three appointed operators of the service.

Alex Tan, director of QMax, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that at popular locations where the free broadband service is available, there can be as many as 20 users online at the same time.

ZDNet Asia understands from IDA that Wireless@SG operators are required to provide access in key areas, which are guided by factors such as accessibility, volume of human traffic and availability of commercial activities. The number of hotspots and their exact locations are determined by the operators.

As at February, there were over 750,000 Wireless@SG subscribers, and over 7,000 hotspots, said an IDA spokesperson.

Improving customer experience?
With the increasing Internet population in Singapore, businesses like Swirl Gelateria are finding that it pays to be in a hotspot zone.

Jay Ethan Hsu, owner of the gelato café along Bukit Timah Road, told ZDNet Asia that the free wireless access has "contributed to a certain extent" to his business.

"The ability to go online certainly adds to the customer experience," he said. "Quite a significant proportion of our clientele are students from schools in the vicinity--they often bring their laptops and surf the Net for leisure or to do research for their projects.

"We also have business professionals who set up meetings with their clients in our café, and may need to refer to real-time info such as currency exchange rates," added Hsu.

A spokesperson from Starbucks Coffee Singapore said the availability of the Wireless@SG service available in the coffee chain's 56 stores further enhances the Starbucks experience for its customers. The Starbucks experience is unique to every customer, some of whom may associate it with the ability to go online, explained the spokesperson.

However, Siow Yong Wu, executive director of Zingrill, said Wireless@SG has not at all made any impact on the business. Zingrill manages American-style café Breeks, Seoul Garden and ZingDo.

According to Siow's estimates, less than 10 percent of Zingrill customers access the wireless service. Breeks, for example, had already offered free wireless Internet access to its customers even before Wireless@SG was initiated.