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Wireless Web surfing in a Singapore cab

By year's end, taxi passengers on the island will be able to surf the Web, check e-mail, access mapping information and even manage their stock portfolios--all from the road.

SINGAPORE--By the end of the year, taxi passengers in Singapore will be able to surf the Web, check e-mail, access mapping and routing information, and even manage their stock portfolios online--all from the road.

Local taxi company CityCab, Hewlett-Packard and Ericsson Singapore on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding to implement Project Escalade, a mobile service that will allow taxi passengers and drivers to wirelessly access the Internet.

Because the "personal area network" in the cab is linked to other public networks such as GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), passengers will be able to access the Internet from their own handheld devices. And taxi drivers will be able to accept e-payment options and process bookings using the mobile service.

With a total investment of over $8 million ($15 million Singapore), the first trial of Project Escalade is expected to involve 500 CityCab taxis by year-end. There are hopes for a global launch of the service in a few years' time, the companies said in a statement.

Under the memorandum of understanding, HP will supply the voice-activation technology enabling CityCab to process passenger calls and send booking orders to the handheld device in the taxis. Ericsson will develop the mobile services--including booking and settling fares--using technology such as location-based services, Bluetooth, GPRS and third-generation networks.

For CityCab, "the open-standard platform will open the door to numerous other e-services and potential (mobile)-commerce opportunities, transforming our company into a service provider role in this Internet age," CityCab CEO Lim Hung Siang said.

The announcement was made at CommunicAsia 2001, one of Asia's premier telecommunications and information technology events.

Staff writer Michelle Tan reported from Singapore.