Commercial 3G services have been offered by mobile service providers in Singapore since 2005. By March 2006, there were around 317,600 3G subscribers, representing 7% of the local population. Driven by the transmission of media-rich content and applications, alongside an increasingly strong desire for mobility, it was proposed that data access to broadband be made available and easily accessible beyond homes and workplaces to key public places such as shopping malls, public transport nodes, and other community spaces.
Wireless@SG was launched in December 2006 against this background. Wireless@SG’s goal was to accelerate the deployment of high-speed wireless broadband, promote a connected lifestyle amongst both citizens and residents, as well as to catalyze the wireless broadband market in Singapore.
As part of Singapore’s Intelligent Nation 2015 (iN2015) 10-year masterplan to realize the vision of ‘An Intelligent Nation, a Global City, powered by Infocomm’, the masterplan called for the development of a National Infocomm Infrastructure comprising complementary wired and wireless networks, to ensure Singaporeans would enjoy seamless connectivity.
Through the Wireless@SG program, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) collaborated with three service providers (iCELL Network, QMAX Communications, and Singapore Telecommunications) in 2006 to deploy public Wi-Fi networks covering major public locations where there would be a higher number of users requiring wireless broadband connectivity. Some of these venues include selected shopping malls, food and beverage outlets, convention centres, public healthcare institutions, community centres, country clubs, public libraries, and parks.
The initial rollout focused on deploying Wi-Fi infrastructure components such as access points, controllers, switches, DSL modem/routers, RADIUS servers, and captive portals necessary to enable access by end user devices.
Developing capacity and services
Following the completion of the initial deployment of hotspots in 2008, Wireless@SG’s focus shifted to security enhancement with the adoption of EAP-PEAP and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) standards in 2010, user accessibility with the adoption of EAP-SIM, allowing users to use their (Singapore) mobile SIM to log on to Wireless@SG in 2014, and speed enhancement, where user access speed was also increased from the initial 512kbps to the current 5Mbps and above.
Wireless@SG service providers also began offering a commercial Wi-Fi service that venue owners can use to enable their own internal enterprise operations, such as implementing wireless surveillance or e-payment services, and at the same time, providing free public Wi-Fi service (with the ‘Wireless@SG’ branding). These service providers also began working towards the expansion of Wireless@SG coverage to selected enterprise-managed public spaces, as well as working with other public agencies to deploy hotspots at other public-facing premises such as food centres and public transport nodes.
Enterprise and end user uptake
There were about 1.3 million Wireless@SG subscribers in 2009, within three years of the program launch, exceeding the target of 250,000 subscribers. By June 2022, there were more than 1.9 million average monthly active users.
Coverage has grown exponentially from the initial 7,500 hotspots deployed in 2008 to more than 44,000 today. During the most recently measured period, from June 2021 to May 2022, the average monthly data volume across the network is more than seven petabytes.
Wireless@SG uses a federated model comprising networks from the current four Wireless@SG service providers (M1 Net, Singapore Telecommunications, StarHub, and SIMBA Telecom) as shown in Figure 1. This federated model enables users to roam seamlessly across hotspots operated by different service providers.
Off-the-shelf software such as RADIUS is used to facilitate user log on across the four service providers, and no change was required to the providers’ routing architecture for user data traffic. However, routing for user authentication has been optimized to reduce end-to-end response time.
Securing the network
Wireless@SG employs 802.1x authentication protocols, specifically EAP-PEAP, EAP-SIM, and EAP-AKA. All users are required to be registered with one of the four service providers to be able to connect to the Wireless@SG network. Singapore mobile subscribers of the respective Wireless@SG service providers may use their SIM cards to automatically log on to Wireless@SG using EAP-SIM/AKA. Other users (such as users with foreign SIM cards) or users of devices that do not support SIM cards (like laptop computers), may register for a Wireless@SG account using their mobile numbers as identity information.
Wi-Fi traffic between the end user device and access points is encrypted minimally with WPA2-Enterprise. Service providers have implemented additional security measures such as Wireless Intrusion Prevention System (WIPS) as part of their infrastructure to enhance network security.
To ensure security on the service providers’ networks, service providers also conduct regular security audits on key network components and remediate any security issues/vulnerabilities discovered.
To further simplify the user registration process and enhance the user log in experience, EAP-PEAP was introduced in 2010 to enable users to perform a one-time setup of the Wi-Fi profile and be able to log on to the network automatically when they are in the coverage area of Wireless@SG hotspots island-wide. Today, users can use a Wireless@SGx App on iOS, Android, Windows and MacOS to enable them to set up their Wireless@SGx profile and automatically connect to a Wireless@SG network whenever they are in the vicinity of the hotspots. This helps to ease the onboarding process for new users and connection to Wireless@SG networks island-wide.
In addition, in order to ensure that service providers deliver consistent service performance to users, IMDA then stipulated certain service requirements such as setting minimum service quality standards for access speed and latency, and conducts random network performance audits at Wireless@SG hotspots to ensure these service requirements are met. This helped to ensure the consistency of user experience and performance standards across all the Wireless@SG operators.
There’s no doubt that Wireless@SG has now become an important part of connectivity at public places across the island, with a minimum access speed of 5Mbps now available to users, which is faster than most public Wi-Fi services around the world. Wireless@SG’s current stated goal remains to continue expanding coverage with more hotspots, particularly in public spaces with high footfall, and provide users with greater ease of wireless access island-wide.
APNIC thanks IMDA for their kind input to this article.
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