Singapore: One nation under Wi-Fi

Firecrackers and gum chewing might be frowned upon in Singapore, but the country is going nuts for Wi-Fi.

By the end of the year, it will be possible to roam almost anywhere in Singapore and get a wireless signal.

As part of its Intelligent Nation 2015 program, the island nation will be able to boast of countrywide Wi-Fi coverage in a few months, Bill Chang, executive vice president of wireless service provider SingTel, said in a recent interview.

"At the end of the year, Singapore will be one mega hot spot," he said. "They are breaking Singapore into three regions and looking at ways to maximize coverage."

The country had a pretty good head start. The official report released with the unfurling of the Intelligent Nation program pointed out that Singapore already had one public hot spot for every square kilometer at the end of last year. Communication between hot spots will be augmented by mesh networking, according to the Intelligent Nation report. Commercial WiMax--a wireless standard that allows signals to travel over longer distances than those using Wi-Fi--will begin in Singapore by the end of the year, said Chang.

The Intelligent Nation program, officially unveiled last year, seeks to make Singapore a global leader in communications technology in a decade. The country doesn't have the large domestic market, manufacturing base or low costs of places like India and China, so the idea is to focus more on industries with a large intellectual property component, similar to what South Korea and Israel are doing. The program is backed by various government subsidies and incentives.

Other initiatives in the program include digitizing public health records, bringing broadband connections into at least 90 percent of residences, recruiting multinationals to locate their call centers for Asia in the country and in general boosting Singaporean technology exports. The country hopes to add 80,000 information technology jobs through the effort. Another goal is to put computers into 100 percent of homes with school-age children.

This is all good news for SingTel, he added. The 127-year-old company (it started as a telegraph provider back in the days of British colonial rule) has emerged as one of the telecom giants of Asia. In its 2001 fiscal year, SingTel reported revenue of $3.1 billion. Approximately 81 percent of the revenue derived domestically. In fiscal 2005, revenue came to $8.3 billion and 71 percent came from overseas.

"We are Asia's largest multimarket mobile operator," Chang said. "We want to be the king of the hill in Asia rather than spread ourselves too thin."

To expand, the company cuts deals or invests in regional wireless carriers such as Indonesia's Telkomsel and India's Bharti Airtel. Through these alliances SingTel garners about 2.5 million new cellular customers a month with around 800,000 coming from neighboring Indonesia. Along with growing the cellular business, SingTel wants to expand its managed services business.

Singapore is also investing heavily in recruiting biotech companies and U.S. and European scientists to work in the country.

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    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.

     

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