Thu, October 27, 2011
Technology > Technology

City's free Wi-Fi access gets easier

2011-10-27 01:19:22 GMT2011-10-27 09:19:22(Beijing Time)  Global Times

A man tries to access free Wi-Fi near Guomao in CBD Wednesday. Seven areas in Beijing will provide free Wi-Fi service soon. A similar campaign was launched in the CBD in April. Photo: Guo Yingguang/GT

Free Wi-Fi will cover seven areas in Beijing including Xidan, Wangfujing, Zhongguancun and main railway stations.

The service could start as soon as the end of November, said Beijing Municipal Commission of Economy and Information Technology Wednesday.

While residents generally welcome the new service, previous efforts to provide free Wi-Fi in Beijing have been criticized for being difficult to access and having slow connection speeds.

Users of wireless-enabled devices will see a Wi-Fi option named "My Beijing" and by entering their cellphone number they will get a password. Each password is valid for three hours, and users can repeat the identification process when the time is up.

The free Wi-Fi project, led by the commission, is a cooperation between China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom, and will last for three years.

The commission started discussions with the three telecom operators in May, and they will give the operators some favorable policies for their development in return, according to the commission.

Most of the access points have been installed, and some Wi-Fi is already up and running, said the  commission Wednesday.

The project will provide a 2Mbps broadband wireless service at each access point, which can ensure the public's demands for online information acquisition.

"It's a good thing that we can have free access to the Internet while shopping or waiting for a train, but I'm worried the signal might be not stable," said Liang Yanyan, a local resident.

The city's central business district launched a free Wi-Fi service in April, but users complained it did not work well.

"The verification process is very complicated and the signal is poor," said a resident who has tried, but failed to access the free Wi-Fi Internet at Guomao.

According to the commission's plan, a Wireless LAN service will extend to major public areas citywide by 2015.

Yet while the government seems to advocate Wi-Fi among the public, Dongcheng district police ordered in August that free Wi-Fi services at bars and cafes can only continue if bar owners install a type of monitoring software at a price, which forced many bars to cut off their Wi-Fi access. It seemed that the software would provide real-name access to Wi-Fi services.

Foreigners without a Chinese cellphone number may not be able to access the new system currently, said the commission, adding that they had spoken to the telecom companies who have said they will try to work out how people with foreign numbers will be able to use the system in future.  

The plan is just another "vanity project of the government," say telecom experts.

"The service quality can't be ensured because it's free, and the operators are losing money offering it," said Xiang Ligang, CEO of cctime.com, a professional telecom portal in China.

Most of the free Wi-Fi trial experiences in other countries proved unsuccessful, he said, for example, a previous free Wi-Fi plan to cover San Francisco, provided by Google, failed in 2006.

"The government wants the public to see they are attending to their needs and offering more convenience to their lives, but in fact residents may not benefit from any of it," Xiang said.

The free Wi-Fi service at airports is not working well most of the time because there are too many people using it, and it will be the same with this project, which covers some of the most popular areas in the capital, he explained.

Xiang suggests that the government offers Wi-Fi service at a cheaper price than usual, but at the same time with good quality.

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