NUS shuttle buses turn Wi-Fi hot spots in trial

National University of Singapore (NUS) students boarding a bus.
National University of Singapore (NUS) students boarding a bus. PHOTO: ST FILE

Students and staff at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Kent Ridge campus have collectively spent 175,800 hours - or more than 20 years - surfing the Internet while travelling on the university's shuttle buses.

They have also racked up 540GB of Internet traffic within three months, under a year-long trial that began in June to connect the vehicles wirelessly through a mesh network, thereby extending campus Wi-Fi coverage outdoors.

Under the trial, a partnership between NUS, telco StarHub and network company Veniam, the 39 campus buses operated by ComfortDelGro effectively become mobile Wi-Fi hot spots for NUS students and staff.

The aim is to test the feasibility of using mesh networks to provide Wi-Fi on moving vehicles and how they can be used to gather data.

Mesh networks work by passing data from one receiver to another. The buses gain Web access when they come within range of 15 access points around the university. A bus that is on the mesh network, but out of range of an access point, can still gain Web access by "piggybacking" off a nearby bus that is within reach of an access point.

"The vehicles, beyond providing coverage, also act as mobile sensors to collect data as they move around," said Dr Joao Barros, chief executive of Veniam. "You can also map information in real time, such as people flow, where they're coming from and going to."

The trial is the first of its kind in Singapore and part of StarHub's Connected Labs initiative, which lets researchers test their ideas in a real-life environment.

Mr Stephen Lee, head of StarHub's i3 (innovation, investment and incubation) unit, said: "This mesh platform at NUS allows StarHub to explore how we can use data generated from the platform to help companies in the logistics and transport sectors improve their operations and planning."

The trial is the first of its kind in Singapore and part of StarHub's Connected Labs initiative, which lets researchers test their ideas in a real-life environment.

It is also part of NUS' Living Lab initiative, which tests new technologies within the university for nationwide feasibility.

Professor Lawrence Wong, deputy director of NUS' Interactive and Digital Media Institute, said: "The technology is fairly new and we are keen to understand some of the performance issues."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'NUS shuttle buses turn Wi-Fi hot spots in trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe