Firetide's Singapore Fling

There have been plenty of complaints about municipal WiFi networks recently. Early deployments generally haven't seen the takeup expected, and some users have expressed annoyance with signal strength and coverage issues. (See We Fade to Grey.)

Mesh startup Firetide Inc. , however, is claiming a success story with the government-backed, island-wide WLAN deployment in Singapore. The Los Gatos, Calif.-based startup says that there have been 150,000 registrations for the free WiFi service since parts of the network were switched on in December 2006. (See Firetide Unwires Singapore.)

The island of Singapore is roughly the size of the Bay Area in California and has a population of around 4.48 million. Firetide is supplying the mesh gear to service provider iCell Network to build out nodes and access points on the Eastern part of the island.

The total network is expected to cost about $100 million when it is fully completed in the fall of this year. The Singapore government will cover around $30 million of the deployment costs.

Firetide says that it has learned some key lessons from this large-scale network, which isn't the most radio-friendly environment, with its high-rises, hills, and narrow streets. "Its a dense environment," says Firetide's marketing manager, Ksenia Coffman.

Still, one of the key lessons learned is not a technological one but a message that could be applied to wireless networks down the ages: "Its very important to manage users' expectations," says Coffman.

In this case, that means ensuring that Singaporeans and tourists are aware that this network is a free, public-access network that isn't intended to provide residential access. "They do not expect it to be available in their homes," says Coffman. "If users do get coverage in their house it is basically incidental."

Some of the WiFi mesh networks in the U.S. have already had complaints about the lack of residential coverage, most notably with Google's mesh network in Mountain View, Calif. (See WiFi Outlook Cloudy in Mountain View.)

Singaporean users, however, do expect indoor coverage in public places such as cafes and malls, since the citystate is too humid to make it comfortable to surf the net outdoors, Coffman notes.

Coffman says Firetide has also learned new tricks about deploying wireless LAN mesh by testing the network as it was being deployed. For instance, splitting the mesh radio nodes and the WiFi access can help to provide more efficient coverage.

"You place the nodes at the top of the pole and the access point closer to the user," Coffman says.

The Singapore network is initially intended purely for free WiFi access. Operators will be able to add premium services, such as VOIP and video, later.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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