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Taiwan flexes digital muscles with iTaiwan free Wi-Fi service


I. Background

iTaiwan is a public Wi-Fi service provided by the government free of charge to local residents and foreign visitors alike. This popular service has been touted by international media including CNN, which listed it as one of the "10 things Taiwan does better than anywhere else," and The Daily Telegraph, which hailed Taiwan as "the first place in the world to offer free wireless internet access on a large scale to tourists."

Flexing Taiwan's digital muscles, the government has implemented several programs to provide convenient internet service for all. The Digital Nation and Innovative Economic Development Plan includes a vision for building an advanced nation where broadband access is a basic human right. The iTaiwan Wi-Fi upgrade plan will raise iTaiwan's connection speed and increase the number of Wi-Fi hotspots in public areas and mass transportation facilities. The Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program also includes a digital infrastructure component designed to close the urban-rural digital divide while making broadband service easily accessible.

II. Progress of the iTaiwan roll-out

The government has so far installed 10,136 iTaiwan hotspots throughout the country (including rural areas and offshore islands) to satisfy mobile user demands for faster internet speeds that allow them to stay connected while outdoors for work or play. The hotspots are geographically distributed to ensure widespread coverage while balancing urban and rural development, and signals have even been detected at Song Syue Lodge atop Hehuan Mountain, the highest hotel in Taiwan. The system currently has 4.13 million registered users, who have accessed the service a total of 210 million times, including 730,000 times by visiting tourists.

III. Comprehensive wireless service

The iTaiwan Wi-Fi upgrade plan contains several measures to increase usage by foreign visitors and address common user complaints about the system including poor connection quality on the high-speed rail, difficulty detecting hotspots/signals, not enough hotspots, and slow internet speeds.

A. Make iTaiwan accounts usable nationwide: Residents and visitors will be able to use a single account when travelling throughout Taiwan. The iTaiwan system will also be linked with the National Immigration Agency to make wireless internet available to foreign visitors as soon as they enter Taiwan.

B. Increase internet speeds: Fixed-line broadband speeds will be raised from 20 megabits per second (Mbps) to over 100 Mbps, increasing per-capita internet connection speed from 1 Mbps to over 5 Mbps.

C. Provide Wi-Fi all along the high-speed railway system: Taiwan's high-speed railway system has become a vital transportation tool since operations began 10 years ago in March 2007. So far, the bidding process for tunnel cable installation is almost completed, and all 34 trains (408 cars total) are scheduled to be outfitted with Wi-Fi equipment by July. By the end of July, all 12 high-speed rail stations are expected to have fourth-generation (4G) wireless connections and Wi-Fi service.

D. Increase iTaiwan hotspot coverage: To give people access to the internet when they need it, the government will first add hotspots at heavily trafficked locations such as airports, highway rest stops, national scenic areas, visitor centers, museums, libraries, exhibition halls, public hospitals, the 10 top night markets, and public transportation facilities. By allowing residents and visitors to enjoy easy access to wireless internet service, iTaiwan will demonstrate Taiwan's information infrastructure achievements and cement the nation's image as a technology powerhouse.

IV. Conclusion

In its World Development Report 2016, the World Bank estimated that a 10 percentage point increase in fixed broadband penetration would increase gross domestic product growth by 1.21 percent in developed economies. This is a clear indication that, for countries around the world, internet infrastructure and innovative application capabilities are now considered core competitive strengths.

In Taiwan, long-held expectations for Wi-Fi service on high speed rail trains will become a reality after the iTaiwan upgrade plan is completed, significantly increasing the ease of access to Wi-Fi and 4G internet service for passengers. Under the iTaiwan program, the public will enjoy faster and stronger information and communications technology, smart lifestyle technologies will become more common, and tourists will be able to enjoy free internet connections, all of which will contribute to Taiwan's image as an advanced nation for broadband internet technology.

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