So I was at BPP this morning having breakfast, and I thought I’d login to Wireless@SG hoping to get some work done. The Wi-Fi signal was weak, and after finding my SSH connection getting stuck repeatedly, I eventually gave up. It made me think, again, how Wireless@SG is doomed to fail.
In case you didn’t know, Municipal Wi-Fi (i.e. city-wide Wi-Fi like what Singapore is doing) has failed in many cities in the US. Projects such as those in San Francisco, Houston, and St Louis are in trouble. Previously announced deployments in Chicago, Cincinnati, Anchorage and Alaska have been canceled.
Even developments in small cities, such as Springfield, Illinois, are being canceled. USA Today article Cities turning off plans for Wi-Fi reasons that Municipal Wi-Fi plans are too expensive and too complicated, and John McKinley explains in Why we will never see municipal WiFi succeed in the US a couple of reasons why they are doomed to failure.
To be fair, there are a few successes with Municipal Wi-Fi in the US. Municipal Wi-Fi Thrives mentions St Cloud. These are, however, rare. The other “success” cases are those where the Wi-Fi network is essentially used by Police, Fire, and other public workers to carry out their work.
For users, the biggest challenge with Wireless@SG is that it is not everywhere. Instead of being able to turn on your notebook or PDA and expect to be instantly hooked up wirelessly, you’d find yourself having to seek out coverage areas. Does anyone remember SingTel’s Call Zone service from the 1990s? How useful is a “mobile phone” if you have to seek out a Call Zone coverage area? (And the joke about Call Zone is that by the time you find your Call Zone signal, you would already have found a public phone as well.)
I can understand that 802.11 Wi-Fi coverage is not easy. You really need a tremendous number of access points. We have 1000 access points in my work place. Wireless@SG will have 5000 covering Singapore. My office is definitely much smaller than one-fifth the size of Singapore. But despite the sheer density of access points, we still do not have 100% coverage in my work place. Users still complain about blind spots. How will Wireless@SG work with 5000 access points? They probably need 500K.
Then of course, the operators will go broke trying to deploy that number of access points. Not to mention also the logistics and management nightmare coping with all those access points. Will 802.11n make any difference?
What will become of Wireless@SG once they stop offering free access? Sure they have users now since access is free. People love free things. People will go out of their way to get free things, including finding the coverage area. But once you make it a paid service, these users would start to consider alternatives. Today, we have 3G offering truly pervasive mobile broadband access. Tomorrow, well, we’re awaiting Wimax and whatever 4G will have in store for us.
3G is great. In fact, I had previously posted about the fun with 3G that I was having. 3G isn’t quite as fast as Wi-Fi, but at least it is readily available everywhere and a lot more reliable than Wi-Fi. In fact, just to amuse myself, when I see others around me struggling with their wireless access, I would turn on my 3G and web surf. Once, a fellow (who presumably was having Wireless@SG problems) at McDonald’s saw me web surfing, came over to ask if there was wireless access. I said “Yes, but not Wi-Fi.” 😛
If I had to choose between paying for a 3G data plan or Wireless@SG plan, I cannot see how I would end up with Wireless@SG.
Now, I assume IDA folks do follow developments around the world and they are aware how municipal Wi-Fi is floundering elsewhere. Where do they see Wireless@SG headed?