A number of cities around the world have boasted of plans to roll out Wi-Fi networks to make life easier for their citizens. But Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is the first city to actually do it, according to Wi-Fi hot spot directory JiWire, which flew a crew in to test the system.
“Taipei is the world’s largest,” said Kevin McKenzie, chief executive officer (CEO) of JiWire, on Tuesday. He said members of his team traveled around the city testing out the network, making sure services such as e-mail, security and basic Internet service worked fine. They gave it a passing grade.
Taipei’s Wi-Fi network currently boasts more than 4,000 hot spots, covering around 90 percent of the 2.6 million people in the city.
There are two companies offering access to the citywide Wi-Fi network: Q-ware Systems, which charges 399 new Taiwan dollars (US$12.20) per month for the service, and the state-run Chunghwa Telecom. A host of other companies also offer Wi-Fi throughout the city in cafes, coffee and tea shops, and other locations.
JiWire said most users should find the system in fine working order. Taipei is wired for 802.11b wireless LAN, an older but widely adopted technology.
“There are a number of cities—Mountain View, San Jose, Tempe, Arizona—making a lot of noise about Wi-Fi, but [Taipei] has really done it,” said Kevin O’Reilly, director of business development at JiWire.
The mayors and IT managers for a number of cities around the world are in Taipei this week to share intelligence on building such networks, including representatives from Waterloo, Canada; Gold Coast, Australia; Glasgow, Scotland; and Jigawa State in Nigeria.
The point of Taipei’s Wi-Fi network was to reduce traffic on city roads, according to Mayor Ma Ying-jeou. The idea was to ensure citizens could access all government data, application forms and other work over the Internet, turning Taipei into a true digital city and reducing the need to drive to government offices. Taipei also hosts Taiwan’s national government offices, meaning citizens often use cars or scooters to take care of national government paperwork as well.
The project has also boosted some of the island’s electronics manufacturers. The island produces more Wi-Fi access points, base stations and other gear than any other place on earth.
So far, the system appears to be working fine in its infancy; it wasn’t supposed to be finished until the end of next month. There have been some complaints that the companies offering the service aren’t signing up many users because there are so many alternatives that cost less or are free.
But building Taipei’s Wi-Fi system and bringing it up to quality levels to pass independent testing by JiWire was no simple task. It required work from several major local companies in addition to consulting help from multinationals including Hewlett-Packard and Intel.
“Having this baby wasn’t easy. It was a very difficult pregnancy,” said Rosemary Ho, managing director of HP Taiwan.
-Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service (Taipei Bureau)
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