A growing trend in Asia has been the gradual adoption of free Wifi Internet in developed municipalities. This has especially been the case for Korea, where Internet is available in all subways and major locations. In fact, a quick stroll around Seoul almost gives one the impression that Wifi has become the new mobile. The catch, however, is that users need to have an account with one of Korea’s telecom companies in order to gain access.
China is taking a different approach this week, making its way into the Wifi space with its own free Internet with even bolder steps. As of this week, Hangzhou (a famous vacation metropolis located southwest of Shanghai) has become the very first city in China (and the world, according to Chinese sources) to open free Wifi services to its citizens, providing approximately 2,000 wireless nodes with no payments attached to citizens and visitors alike.
The Hangzhou Municipal Government announced that this would be the first phase, and though it appears that there are a few holes in service, as Sina representatives revealed today, this move still represents an important turning point for mobile Internet in China. As cheap smartphones become standard in China and Wifi access becomes more common, mobile is gradually becoming synonymous with the Internet. While there are many further steps to be taken, theoretically if this is replicated outside Hangzhou, it could have some dramatic effects on the industry.
We have spoken before about the control that is exerted by the state-owned telecom giants and how they have already been accused of deliberately charging higher prices for their Internet services. As recently as June, it became apparent that telecom companies may even begin to consider privatization, if at a rather slow pace, but this is unlikely in the short term. This may be the beginning of a larger competitive trend for the Internet in China.
Source: Sina Tech
Update: We previously stated that Hangzhou is first in the world for free Wifi, however this was according to Chinese media sources and appears to be incorrect. After further research, there are many conflicting reports that the first Wifi city was in the US, the UK, or in India; however, the earliest report discovered is in Mysore, India in 2004.