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Wireless@SG still 'growing'

Operators say Singapore's government-initiated free Wi-Fi service is still seeing new subscribers signing on, including a sizable portion of tourists.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Singapore's free wireless Internet service, Wireless@SG, is still seeing new sign-ons, according to the government and local operators.

In fact, the number of subscribers exceeded the Infocomm Development Authority's (IDA) initial target of 250,000 by the end of 2008, hitting a million by the time, a spokesperson from the statutory board told ZDNet Asia.

The IDA said the service, spread over 7,500 hotspots around "high-traffic areas" across the island, now supports some 1.2 million users, "and this number continues to grow every month".

The government-initiated free Wi-Fi service was launched in 2006 as part of the country's iN2015 infocomm masterplan.

It is operated by local wireless operators, iCell Network, QMax Communications and SingTel, and users can log onto the network with accounts from any of the three.

Ken Chua, iCell CEO, said the operator is seeing an average of 400 new subscribers per day on its network.

A SingTel spokesperson said its network has some 600,000 registered users, and noted that this base has grown three times since the service was started two years ago.

The IDA also said Wireless@SG's users are clocking longer hours of usage on the service, from an average of 2.1 hours per user each month as at December 2006, to 4.2 hours in December 2008.

Chua said iCell's network relayed 16,279 GB of data for the month of February this year.

Registration woes for some tourists
But some foreigners have complained about Wireless@SG's registration process. In a previous blog post, a user said he found it difficult to sign-up for the service.

The IDA said tourists can get help at Changi Airport's information counters, and noted that foreigners make up between 23 to 26 percent of sign-ups. Links to registration pages can be found on its Web site.

A spokesperson from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail, the STB does not "actively market" the Wireless@SG service, but has included information on signing up on its Web site.

"Business visitors have Internet access via their hotel connection, while leisure visitors can get [mobile Internet] access via their phones, and may not necessarily travel with their laptops," said the STB.

An operator that runs a paid Wi-Fi service over many countries, including 823 hotspots in Singapore, is Boingo.

Jeremy Pepper, Boingo's PR manager, told ZDNet Asia the service is differentiated from Wireless@SG in that the latter is not geared toward global travelers.

"Wireless@SG is a free service with some issues. It was designed to be a local service, and might be a little bit more of a process for visitors to the country to sign up for the service," said Pepper.

He added that the service, operating at 512 Kbps, is slower than paid services "as you are getting what you pay for". SingTel provides a paid service that offers a faster 1 Mbps connection, he said.

Pepper said Boingo routes its users "through a higher bandwidth network".

The IDA in 2006 said Wireless@SG would be free for two years from January 2007. While the deadline has passed, ZDNet Asia understands the service remains free.

The IDA said an update on that status will be made "in due course". SingTel's Web site also listed a similar announcement, saying that a decision will be made "at a later date".

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