In the chase for digital dominance in the region, Singapore has just fired another one of its guns. The Infocomm Development Authority has announced that it intends to turn 48 highly populated areas of the city-state into free 802.11 WiFi hotspots for the public.
The service will be provided by 3 of their existing WiFi hotspot providers; iCell, QMax and Singtel. To sweeten the motivation for the providers, the IDA is even willing to fund up to S$30 million of the expected S$100 million it'll cost to do this. While I think that S$100 million seems like an excessively large number, the point that counts is that the IDA will subsidize the rollout of WiFi coverage which will be provided free of charge (for 2 years) to everyone.
That's the clincher, right there. The ubiquitous availabity of free WiFi in these highly trafficked areas will undoubtedly lead to an increase in IP telephony calls made from WiFi and SIP enabled GSM mobiles (see here and here). Converged network, here we come !
Singapore seems to be taking the first concrete steps with strong government-led motivation and support to build a converged communications infrastructure in the country. By leveraging of the ubiquitous WiFi access point and the economies of scale and availability which millions of chipsets have generated, they're clearly setting in place the foundation for what they hope to achieve. On our side of the forgotten Scenic Bridge, we are still chasing elusive dreams of WiMAX and 3G and to our loss, ignoring the humble 802.11 WiFi protocol.
By providing the access network, Singapore will also be able to deregulate its telecomms industry much faster as consumers would be able to get CLASS 5 and other PBX-type services from their IP PBXes back in the office, thus weaning them further away from the dominance of telecomms monopolies.
Features like One Number and Call Forwarding, FindMe, FollowMe as well as local transfers and conference calls can all be enjoyed by consumers as long as their enterprise IP PBX provides these services, freeing them from the chains which bind to their cellular providers.
It is really heartening to see Singapore take these first steps towards opening up access in the telecommunications space. They must have pondered long and hard over the pros and cons of this move, and clearly the IDA's offer of subsidy is testament to the faith they have in the converged network.
I just can't wait get turn on my Nokia E61 and enjoy connectivity to my office IP PBX and both outgoing and incoming calls through our fixed line without having to fork out huge roaming charges.