The last time I'd used wireless internet in Singapore was in early 2007. Simulation cricket was all the rage, and my parting memory was how wonderfully well the Singaporean government had set up a national wi-fi network and how lousy my laptop battery was for lasting just 15 minutes off a full charge.
While I was still in Australia I was able to setup my wireless account with an internet service provider called the iCell Network. Ordinarily they would SMS a password to the user, but as I was not Singaporean they were kind enough to email it to me. When I was in Singapore, I logged in and everything worked perfectly.
Fast forward nearly three years, and the system had been turned on its head. I half-expected that my 2007 username/password combination would no longer be valid but I was still disappointed to have that expectation confirmed minutes after landing. Singapore's Changi Airport, like most major places in the country, is fully wi-fi enabled using the national Wireless@SG wireless network. Unlike before when I had a laptop, this time I was equipped with an iPhone.
Under new security laws, only Singaporean residents can apply for a Wireless@SG account. Which is frustrating for travellers, what was so easy just a few years ago is now very complicated. Or so I thought.
The airport helpdesk were only slightly helpful, they said travellers could apply for a temporary Wireless@SG account. Alright, that could work... how long will the account remain valid for? A couple of hours. Good for someone in transit, not great for someone visiting the country for any longer than the time it takes to wait for a connecting flight.
Fortunately, I wasn't completely without internet access. I still had a bit of credit
on my UK sim card from Vodafone. Unfortunately I blew that pretty quickly, but if you've ever visited Singapore there is one thing that you can count on; SMS spam that you'll skip over from the numerous cellular networks that operate.
Hold it right there! It was within the "Welcome to Singapore, look what we can sell you!" SMS spam that there was a gem of an SMS.
From STMWELCOME (SingTel Mobile... they are notorious for the SMS spam) was this beauty: "Enjoy exclusive food offers when your roam with SingTel Mobile. Manually select SingTel Mobile as your preferred network, and dial *3167 for a free SMS coupon".
Wrong message! Although I admit I did get the free coupon (free cup of premium illy coffee near Raffles Place MRT, regrettably I was unable to use this), the message of the most interest was in fact their next SMS: "For FREE wireless internet surfing at Wireless@SG hotspots, dial *186 for free account. Dial *777 for other visitor services".
You have to be on the SingTel network to use this, on an iPhone to manually connect go to the Settings -> Carrier page and once the list has downloaded select SingTel.
After you dial *186, you will receive an SMS from STWLAN, something to the effect of: "SSID:Wireless@SG User ID: +61xxxxxxxx@singtel Password:xxxxxx. Service provider: Singtel. Valid till 12am. Can be used FREE on iCell and Qmax networks".
Replace the x's in the user id with your mobile phone number, and your password with 6 seemingly random digits and you have your wireless account. A few important things to note, the account will only last 1 day (until midnight, as the message says) but you can get another free account by dialing *186 after midnight.
The Wireless@SG account should work for wireless-enabled smart phones and wireless-enabled laptops alike (back in 2007 I had to purchase locally a USB wi-fi dongle for my laptop!). On an iPhone it is a simple matter of selecting Wireless@SG under the Settings -> Wi-Fi tab, and then entering Safari, selecting the appropriate network and typing in the username and password SingTel sent to you.
After connecting, simply open up mobile Safari and enter your login details and select the appropriate network on the splash page.
And that's it, you are connected free-of-charge to the internet! Once you have logged in through Safari you can use any internet application on your iPhone (Mail, Twitter applications like Tweetie or iTweetReply, FStream, etc).
It is worth mentioning that in some places, such as the Adelphi Centre near City Hall Interchange MRT, I was able to connect to Wireless@SG without entering any login details at all and browse freely. I wouldn't rely on this, and the Adelphi Centre was the only place it worked for me - but it might mean that if you are in the right place at the right time and without a Wireless@SG account you might strike lucky.
In summary, things are different in Singapore now. But that doesn't mean it's harder, in fact it is probably quite logical to allow 24 hour wi-fi accounts for travellers. If you are in the country, I strongly recommend using the free Wireless@SG service instead of international data roaming where the fees can be extraordinary.