Wireless network auto-switching in Singapore slated for pilot early next year

A woman stops to use her smartphone inside the tunnel of Bishan Circle Line MRT station. The Government has set mid-2014 to call for proposals to test the idea of wireless network auto-switching, with a pilot slated for early next year. -- ST FI
A woman stops to use her smartphone inside the tunnel of Bishan Circle Line MRT station. The Government has set mid-2014 to call for proposals to test the idea of wireless network auto-switching, with a pilot slated for early next year. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

The Government has set mid-2014 to call for proposals to test the idea of wireless network auto-switching, with a pilot slated for early next year.

Dubbed heterogeneous network (HetNet), this idea of letting users hop across 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi networks may be useful during outages or when surfing is slow on one network. A big part of the plan involves national roaming across cellular networks.

Ms Jacqueline Poh, the Infocomm Development Authority's (IDA) managing director, said on Sunday: "National roaming needs to be developed in a modular fashion. We are already talking to telcos and equipment manufacturers."

The announcement comes three weeks after the idea of Hetnet was first mooted in Parliament three weeks ago. This is part of the Government's long-term goal to ensure that scarce wireless spectrum is maximised to meet rising mobile data demands. A 10-year infocomm and media masterplan, which Hetnet is part of, was released on Sunday on the Ministry of Communications and Information's website for public consultation.

The pilot, details of which will be available in the coming months, will look at what is needed to achieve seamless roaming without slowing down or disrupting mobile data and voice services.

IDA said it is in discussions with telcos, equipment manufacturers and institutes of higher learning to determine the technology specifications. The public will not be involved as yet.

IDA executive deputy chairman Steve Leonard said that switching from network to network without service interruption "is still a major challenge".

For instance, when a user is on a call, will he be able to continue with the call when the network switching is done at the backend?

SingTel and StarHub said they look forward to receiving more information on the pilot, while M1 said it wants to participate in the trial.

StarHub said it is concerned about the commercial and legal issues, as well as those surrounding technical standards, quality of service and the circumstances under which switching should take place.

Meanwhile, cellular to Wi-Fi network hopping is already a reality in Singapore with the upgraded Wireless@SG, a free nationwide Wi-Fi network first launched in 2006.

Revamped last Friday, the network now automatically logs in users by detecting their 3G or 4G SIM cards.

Wireless@SG has 5,000 hotspots today with plans to double this to 10,000 by next year and further to 20,000 by 2016.

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