Taipei Bathed in Wi-Fi in 2005

Taipei plans to make wireless Internet access available across the Taiwan capital by the end of 2005, joining a small number of cities offering Wi-Fi networks. According to a Reuters article, the network will reach almost 90 per cent of the capital’s population of 3 million and aims to make accessing the Internet as easy as using a mobile phone. The system will enable subscribers to easily access information and services from governmental agencies and other service providers wherever they may be in the city – either by 3G mobile phone, personal digital assistant (PDA) or laptop computer.

Joining a handful of cities offering Wi-Fi networks, a connecting system may soon become vital in attracting and retaining businesses, as well as catering to students and other youngsters. City-backed wireless networks also help to ensure that all neighbourhoods have equal access to the system. The downside is that government-backed projects like this will hurt the private sector, and many will believe that installing Wi-Fi using tax-payers money is a waste when most would rather see taxes go towards putting more police on the street or cleaning up the city – especially those who already have broadband in their homes.

“In most cities in the world the coverage is small, but Taipei’s [network] is designed for a population of 2.6 million,” said Andy Lai, project leader for a Hewlett-Packard consulting team working with the Taipei City Government. Taiwan’s Q-Ware Systems, which won Taipei’s tender to build the network, plans to spend US$70 million on infrastructure, setting up 15,000 to 20,000 access points around the city, according to HP. Other companies involved in the project include Intel, Microsoft and Cisco Systems.

Q-Ware will charge users for access. Qware has to foot the expense of installation and pay the Taipei City Government royalties for the right to run the subscription business for a period of nine years, while the Taipei City Government must provide administrative assistance and give Qware Systems the right to use public facilities such as utility poles, bus stations and overpasses for system installation.

The number of subscribers of the new WLAN system is expected to reach 500,000 by the time the system is completed and increase to 1.1 million by the end of 2006. It will provide a platform for the government to better serve citizens and for the citizens to obtain information easily at a very low cost, which in turn should attract more subscribers and thereby generate more online business opportunities. New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Jerusalem are among cities offering or planning city-wide networks.