M1 brings Wireless@SG to selected SMRT buses

 
It’s no secret that Singapore is striving towards becoming a ‘Smart Nation’. And a crucial piece to fulfilling that goal is to have a way to connect ‘everyone and everything everywhere, all the time’. Our current communications infrastructure is clearly not pervasive and robust enough for that to happen yet, which is why the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is currently working to build a Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) and conducting trials with the participation of local telcos and ISPs.
As part of these HetNet trials, M1 is now testing a ‘Wi-Fi-On-The-Go’ service on buses. More specifically, commuters onboard two SMRT Service 176 buses - a trunk route service linking Bukit Merah Interchange and Bukit Panjang Temporary Bus Park - can now go online by connecting to the free Wireless@SG (including SSA-enabled Wireless@SGx) public Wi-Fi network.
I was onboard one of these buses a few days ago, and indeed, connection was seamless. Since I’m already a Wireless@SG user, and my device has long been set up for SIM-based login (EAP-SIM authentication), this didn’t come as a surprise to me. The speeds I experienced were good too (as far as Wireless@SG goes), about 1.6Mps downstream and 1.9Mbps upstream.
To achieve this feat, M1 has installed on each of the buses a low-power, shoebox-size small cell device. This in-vehicle unit is linked to M1’s 4G+ network and the bandwidth is then made available to connected smart devices over an 802.11n access point.

M1 Wi-Fi

Additionally, M1 has announced that it’ll be testing a separate M1 Wi-Fi service on the same buses starting end-April, though only with HetNet trial participants. A carrier Wi-Fi service, think of it like Singtel Wi-Fi, just that instead of shopping malls and transport hubs, it’s found on buses.
Expectedly, M1 Wi-Fi (which is also hooked up to the small cell on the bus) is faster than Wireless@SG. In the demo, a Samsung Galaxy S6 on M1 Wi-Fi was able to hit a download speed of roughly 7.1Mbps and an upload speed of 17.7Mbps.
But fast speeds aren’t the only benefit of M1 Wi-Fi. M1 is also testing voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi). Unlike voice calls placed over OTT apps like Skype, a VoWi-Fi call is typically of higher quality, and can be handed off seamlessly to M1’s cellular network when the user alights from the bus. Because the operator is in control here, value-added services like caller ID will also continue to work.
Look ma, Wi-Fi on the bus! (Left: Speedtest with M1 carrier Wi-Fi. Right: Speedtest with in-bus Wireless@SG.)
Look ma, Wi-Fi on the bus! (Left: Speedtest with M1 carrier Wi-Fi. Right: Speedtest with in-bus Wireless@SG.)
See that Wi-Fi on handset symbol? That's how you tell you're on a VoWi-Fi call.
See that Wi-Fi on handset symbol? That's how you tell you're on a VoWi-Fi call.
The small cell (basically a mini cellular base station) is small and low-power enough that SMRT didn't need to retrofit the buses.
The small cell (basically a mini cellular base station) is small and low-power enough that SMRT didn't need to retrofit the buses.

No roadmap to share (yet)

At this stage, M1 has nothing to announce with regards to the commercialization of M1 Wi-Fi. It also isn’t revealing if and when it’ll be bringing Wireless@SG to other bus services. Still, the benefits of M1’s ‘Wi-Fi-On-The-Go’ service are obvious. At the consumer level, it enables us to check our emails and surf the web, all without eating into our data allowance. And it's free too, if you're connected to Wireless@SG. For businesses, it may well spur new applications. For example, a tour operator can use this to provide Wi-Fi connectivity onboard their tour buses. And who knows, maybe the Land Transport Authority and the bus operators can use this service to get even better real-time information for more accurate bus arrival timings.