Two notable bloggers in Singapore’s IT community James Seng and Bernard Leong have commented on the less than impressive Wireless@SG. I shall share my thoughts on this dismal performance and ways things could be improved by the service providers.
For the connectivity and poor speed issues, there are a few reasons for this. I shall mention five of them.
1. Limited Range of Wireless Access Points.
2. Cost of installing sufficient Wireless Access Points for complete coverage.
3. Insufficient bandwidth allocated to Wireless@SG by the service providers.
4. Service providers did not plan and test the systems with a high load of users.
5. The back end infrastructure isn’t set up properly.
To me, all these reasons boil down to one factor – Cost. To the service providers it would entail a significant cost to solve the above mentioned issues. To cover the cost, in the absence of subscriptions paid by the consumers, these service providers are relying on government subsidies.
Wireless@SG’s network is being established by three service providers – iCELL, QMax and Singnet. According to the Wireless@SG factsheet released by IDA, the government will be subsidizing up to 30% of the cost of deploying the network based on the $100 million that the network operators are expected to spend and the $30 million that IDA says they are prepared to spend.
The factsheet does not answer the following question with regards to the subsidy.
1. Is the $30 million an absolute sum to be spent by the IDA for Wireless@SG?
2. Is the amount based on 30% of what the network operators do eventually spend up to a limit of $30 million?
The answers to these questions are important. If the amount is an absolute sum that will be given out as long as the service operators meet minimum standards regardless of the cost incurred by them establishing the network, then it would be in the service providers interest to keep cost low such that the gap between them spending on the network and what they receive as a subsidy is as low as possible if not even gaining some profit from the subsidy itself.
If it is a percentage based on what they do eventually spend on the network, then the question whether the service operators do have ability to cover the cost of establishing the kind of network envisioned is a valid one. While Singnet’s financial ability to do so is probably there, do iCell and QMax have the ability to meet the cost demands?
Cost is only one part of the profit equation. The other part is revenue. What are the service providers doing to increase the revenue they earn from their wireless network since they cannot rely on consumer subscription? Unfortunately, not much.
Wireless@SG Login page.
Depending on the network you connect to, you will see different advertisements on the Wireless@sg login screen.
The screenshot on the top-left shows iCell advertising their wireless service. They did not specify whether it is the paid service but from the speed used in the advertisement, it can be inferred they are advertising the free service. Doesn’t make sense does it? A user is already on your login page. It means they either have a wireless@sg login or they are going to get one without you needing to sell the need to them. Since they are on your login page, a simple noticeable link to your registration page will do. The advertisement is wasting prime location. It might be that the user who is on the login page has registered with another service provider (i.e. Singnet) and the advertisement’s purpose is to try to convince the user to switch. The usefulness of the advertisement to initiate the switch is highly unlikely. If however, the user logins and experiences good network performance, the chances of that switch is more probable.
The top-right corner shows the screen-shot for QMax Wireless@SG login page. It is making better use of the space by advertising Creative’s MP3 player ZEN. The bottom-left shows Singnet promoting their Mobile Voucher’s programme but wasting significant screen estate on trying to get users to signup with their wireless service.
Earlier, I promised to share how Wireless@SG could be better beyond just the obvious investing in the network infrastructure. Here are my thoughts.
Concentrate on getting more users
Concentrating on getting more users might seem like an obvious thing to do but is something that I don’t see any service providers doing. Beyond just sticking an advertisement on the Wireless@SG login page, I do not see any of the service providers investing in user acquisition.
It might be fair to ask how getting more users on an already slow network will make Wireless@SG better.
The reason is this – eventually these free users will become paid users after the trial period of the next three years ends. If you concentrate on getting more users, your projection of the revenue that can be generated when subscriptions start getting collected will increase. This would give you more incentive and assurance to invest in the network now because you have a better assessment that the costs can be recouped. Also, the network is your best advertising message. Get more users and allow them to experience a better Wireless@SG experience than what other providers can offer and eventually you will get more paid subscribers.
So, to me, the first step is to make user acquisition a priority.
Provide more services to your users
Only Singnet seems to try to provide additional services to their users. The below screenshot is from their Mobile Vouchers service. Users have a range of mobile vouchers they can choose to download onto their phone and use.
However, if you look at the promotions displayed to me, they are not displayed according to my location. I was in Orchard Library when I took this screenshot and it is showing me a voucher for a restaurant at Ang Mo Kio and 2 at Boon Lay. I was unable to search for Mobile Vouchers by Location, only by Category.
Beyond providing wireless access, the service providers are in prime spot to provide location based services. When we log into the network, they already know our location. Allowing a user to find the latest and most relevant promotions in the immediate area would be another source of revenue for the service provider. Another source of revenue is another way to defray the cost of establishing a quality wireless network.
Another location based service that could be provided is like what PlaceSite is trying to do – establish a community around the wifi coverage area. Imagine users being able to communicate with other users accessing the network using the same hotspot. Imagine users being able to communicate with shop owners in the vicinity who are also using the network. Imagine shop owners being able to communicate with these users.
The possibilities are endless, some practical, some just looking good in theory. The key is that wireless service providers should look into these additional services to generate revenue. As of now, only Singnet seems to be doing anything about it.
The above screenshot is of the page which I was redirected to when I logged into Singnet’s network. They wanted to know more about me – the user. It didn’t matter if I logged into their network with a QMax account. Compare this to iCell’s profile page which I can only access if I log into their network with an iCell account. If now, it doesn’t matter which account I use to log into a network, why is iCell making the distinction? Why not just treat me as one of their users and find out more about me? Just like what Singnet is doing.
Improve the Landing Pages
These are the screenshots of the next page you will see when you log into Wireless@SG with the different service providers.
Top-left corner is the screen shot after you log into iCell’s Wireless@SG network. Clicking on ‘Continue’ takes you to their corporate homepage. QMax’s landing page after you login is immediately their corporate homepage. What a waste! Only Singnet makes an effort to utilize the landing page effectively ( bottom-left screenshot ).
The landing page would be a great place to show well chosen ads based on the user’s Location and Profile. Maybe it is time for the service providers to get in touch with a company like JiWire, a company specializing in location driven advertising.
Government subsidies is not the only way to establish a free quality wireless network. Microsoft is teaming with JiWire to provide free wifi using an advertisement-driven model. This model and other revenue streams based on location-driven services can and should be looked into if Singapore hopes to get the kind of wireless network we envision.
Government subsidies is based on managing the expectations of a government body where in Singapore’s case is IDA. My opinion is that managing those expectations is easier than that of the consumer. There are many reasons for this and here are two of them.
1. It is harder for the government to walk because they do not want to lose initial investments.
2. It is easier for the consumer to cancel a subscription than the government to cancel a subsidy.
While it is great that the government is doing what they are doing to make Singapore totally wired, unfortunately, I fear that it has created an environment where the service providers do not see the need to innovate to gain users.
The importance of users cannot be understated. More users does not mean only more subscription revenue. It also has the potential to attract more quality advertisers as well as result in higher CPM. It also makes it more cost-effective to create further revenue streams based on location-based services for the users.
These revenue can be used to create a better network which in turn attracts more users. It is a virtuous cycle!