HP, Ericsson hail taxis to the Web

Hewlett-Packard Co. and L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co. on Tuesday announced plans to take the World Wide Web to the back seats of taxicabs, initially in Singapore and later around the world.

The two companies signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with CityCab Pte. Ltd., one of Singapore's largest taxi fleet operators, here Tuesday morning as the Communicasia trade show opened its doors. The MoU calls on HP to handle design and implementation of a voice activation system that will handle customer calls and dispatch booking information to taxis, while Ericsson will work on the mobile data side of the project, dubbed Project Escalade.

The announcement was slim on details. The private network, termed a personal area network by the two companies, will be linked to public networks, such as local GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) or GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks, they said in a statement. For taxi drivers, the system will enable them to access route planning information and payment processing systems, they said.

In addition, the partners said the system will allow customers to access the Web and other information services from their own wireless devices thanks to a private network installed in the taxi. Such applications could include the ability to send e-mail, check stock prices, read local news or print out information such as distance traveled and fare paid.

Expansion of the system to China, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia is expected as part of a global rollout over the "next few years," the two companies said.

The Singapore project is part of the Singapore government's "Wired with Wireless" program that seeks to encourage companies to use Singapore as a testbed for development of mobile infrastructure, products and services.