TECH TALK: City Wi-Fi Networks: Taipei’s Lead

Even as US cities consider and start rolling out Wi-Fi networks, one Asian city that has already started doing it is Taipei. The Wall Street Journal (January 19) wrote: The network, initiated by the Taipei city government and built by a private company, already includes more than 3,300 wireless “access points” that cover half the city’s 106 square miles. The devices use the wireless Internet technology known as Wi-Fi to let Taipei’s 2.6 million residents surf the Internet or send emails from the privacy of their living rooms or the public comfort of their favorite park benches. Although the project has encountered some glitches and delays, city officials say that when it is completed around midyear, it will cover more than 90% of Taipei.

The Taipei network is not cheap. The WSJ article adds: In August 2004, the government approved Q-ware Systems Inc., which beat out another local company in bidding. Construction started the following month. Q-ware, in turn, hired Nortel Networks Corp. of Brampton, Ontario to build, equip, and maintain the system…Q-ware says it is investing about $93 million to build the network.

An article in Forbes in 2005 provided some additional information:

The city of Taipei, Taiwan, is currently deploying a mesh network that will eventually blanket the city, installing wireless mesh antennas on street lamps, in train stations and on the side of buildings. “This is the first time a city of 272 square kilometers could be wholly covered by a wireless LAN,” says Mayor Ying-jeou Ma.

…More than 10,000 wireless access points will be in service, providing coverage to 90% percent of Taipei’s 2.65 million citizens.

The mesh technology provides an easy way to deliver broadband Internet access to every citizen of Taipei. “Wireless LANs solve the problem of the last mile, particularly in a metropolitan area,” says Ma. When completed, the wireless network will be used for everything from public safety applications to providing a pervasive network for Internet telephony and Wi-Fi cell phones. “The business models remain to be invented, but this is a trend that is inevitable,” says Ma.

Additional details of Taipei’s network are available here. The network, dubbed WIFLY, costs NT399 (Rs 550, $12) per month.

In many Asian cities, Wi-Fi co-exists with multiple other solutions. But in countries like India, it can become the primary form of access. With the government in India reluctant to open up the last mile access of the telcos to competition, wireless mesh networks using unlicenced spectrum are what the country needs.

Tomorrow: Mesh Technology

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.