Beijing unveils free Wi-fi link in selected areas

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 June, 2008, 12:00am

Hi-tech blitz ahead of Olympics

Beijing switched on its free trial Wi-fi service in the inner city and a few other selected areas yesterday as part of the city's promise to put on a hi-tech Olympic Games.

The move came as President Hu Jintao inspected a newly built high-speed train between Beijing and Tianjin , and an express rail link between the city and the airport.

The two are key infrastructure projects built for the Games, and Mr Hu's inspection signalled Beijing's preparations had entered the final stage.

According to news reports, the Wi-fi network covered about 100 sq km in its trial phase, mostly near the Second and Third ring roads and in the central business district, the Jinrong Jie financial district, Zhongguancun - Beijing's 'Silicon Valley' - and the Wangjing residential-commercial area in northeastern Beijing.

People in those areas can use a laptop or PDA to log on to the internet for free, but the Wi-fi signal may be too weak to penetrate into buildings, according to a report.

The network's limited coverage is in addition to the wireless internet services offered by China Mobile, which has built a more sophisticated Wi-fi service for Olympic venues.

The network was developed by Chinacomm, a rising mainland wireless and broadband provider, and its main infrastructure was completed in March.

The test network is only the first stage of a much larger Wi-fi project, which is expected to cover almost the entire urban area by 2010.

Technology researchers with managed to pick up Wi-fi signals using their personal laptops at an outdoor square in Zhongguancun yesterday and said the connection speed was close to that of broadband internet, a report on the website said.

The connection grew weaker and even disappeared when the researchers took their laptops indoors, they said.

The Beijing Evening News said only pre-registered users at Chinacomm's website would have free access to the wireless network. Several laptop users contacted in Beijing's central business district yesterday said they could not log on to the wireless network because of 'configuration' problems.

Chinacomm customer hotlines and other phones at the company were either busy or calls went unanswered yesterday.

The Beijing Evening News said the free Wi-fi connection would end after the Olympics and people would then have to pay for the service, although the parties involved had not decided how much to charge.

Beijing is one of several mainland cities - others include Shanghai, Tianjin, Wuhan, Hangzhou and Shenzhen - that have long planned to develop extensive Wi-fi coverage.

Major mainland communications companies had largely been left behind in such drives because city governments have preferred to put the projects in the hands of mid-sized and small companies in order to control the pace and direction of the rollouts.