Beijing, Bangkok get free muni Wi-Fi

26 Jun 2008

At a time when cities elsewhere are quietly shelving their muni Wi-Fi projects, urban authorities in Asia are turning them on.

Beijing and Bangkok this week both unveiled free hotspot networks.

Beijing's is just one more piece of infrastructure for the Olympics. Built by local company ChinaComm, it covers about 100 square kilometres inside the Second and Third Ring Roads, reported.

It's not clear under whose authority ChinaComm has built the network - presumably that of the Beijing City government. Reportedly, this is just the first phase of a much bigger network covering the whole city.

China Mobile has already built out a hotspot network at major Olympics venues. But this one is free, or at least will be until after the Games. Users can register at ChinaComm's website.

Trouble is, you get what you pay for. Users who tried to log onto the network found they could only see a Wi-Fi signal when standing outside with their laptop. Too bad if they actually want to sit down at their desk. No-one from ChinaComm customer support could be contacted to help out.

We'll see if the people in Bangkok enjoy a better experience.

The city has built out 15,000 hotspots, in part to solve its very real traffic congestion problems. The service will be free for the first year, with free access cards being handed out in shopping malls.

We'll see how that pans out, but muni Wi-Fi projects everywhere else have collapsed for want of a viable business model.

The people who can't afford internet access tend not to have laptops or PCs anyway. And then there's the more fundamental problem of trying to make money out of a free service.

Asian cities are more densely populated and have bigger low-income populations than in North America, so arguably the demand might be there for free hotspot access.

But unless governments are willing to fund these Wi-Fi projects indefinitely, it's hard to see them lasting long.

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