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S'pore: Free Wi-Fi next year

Public will get free unlimited wireless access almost anywhere in the island-state for two years.
Written by Aaron Tan, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Residents in the island-state can soon enjoy free unlimited Wi-Fi services almost anywhere within the country next year.

Announced last night by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the new wireless broadband service touting access speeds of up to 512 kilobits per second (Kbps) will be available in public areas including town centers and downtown shopping belts.

Dubbed Wireless@SG, the service is part of the country's iN2015 infocomm masterplan. Officially launched in June this year, the 10-year blueprint also includes the deployment of a national broadband backbone providing Internet access speeds beyond 1 gigabit per second (1Gbps), in addition to other technology initiatives spanning various industry segments.

Three local wireless operators--iCell Network, QMax Communications and SingTel--have been tasked to provide the new Wireless@SG service, which will be offered free of charge for two years from January 2007.

The trio will be investing about S$100 million (US$62.7 million) over the next two years to deploy Wireless@SG. Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said it is "prepared to defray" up to S$30 million (US$18.8 million) of the set-up cost.

According to IDA, users are not required to be existing subscribers of the three operators to enjoy the service. They can sign up with any one of them, and be able to access all three operators' networks with a single account.

While Singaporeans already have convenient access to wireless hotspots run by individual service providers, the Wireless@SG program will bring the number of public hotspots in the country from the current 900 to about 5,000, IDA said.

Those looking for bandwidth beyond 512Kbps, or connectivity options with a higher quality of service, will also have the option of signing up for premium services from the three operators for a fee.

Such services will come with differentiated value-added services including premium content, video conferencing, Net telephony, online games and location-based services. More details of these will be made available by the operators by the end of this year, according to IDA.

SingTel yesterday announced plans to offer premium services on its wireless hotspots that include broadband TV, a location-based service that sends information such as shopping offers and discounts to users, as well as unlimited Net telephony calls at a fixed monthly fee.

Lee said: "As we move forward in the digital age, we must broaden the opportunities for all segments of the population to access and benefit from technology. We must create digital opportunities for all Singaporeans, and never allow a digital divide in our society."

To bridge the digital divide, IDA also unveiled three new initiatives to provide low-income families, people with disabilities and senior citizens, with subsidized computer packages as well as infocomm training.

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