Hot spot: Is Tokyo finally going wireless?

posted on July 10, 2016

Wanna surf the web for free in Tokyo? It's finally time to catch the wave. Along with an influx of foreign tourists, Japan is seeing an explosion in wireless internet spots.

These days, it seems you can’t walk 100 meters in without seeing a “free Wi-Fi” sign of some sort in central Tokyo. Visitors and Tokyoites alike have thousands of access points to choose from, emanating via everything from vending machines to bullet trains. Users no longer have to rely on the generosity of hotels or internet cafes. Wi-Fi is now a top-down affair: some of the largest municipal and commercial groups in Japan are working together to make Wi-Fi an essential piece of infrastructure.

Wi-Fi wasteland

This represents something of a sea change for the Japanese capital. Six years ago, if you were a tourist and you wanted to get online outside your hotel without a local SIM card, you were pretty much screwed unless, like a desert wanderer stumbling upon an oasis, you found an obliging coffee shop.

“Tokyo is a Wi-Fi wasteland,” fellow Japan Times contributor Matt Alt noted in 2010, attributing the dearth of signal to the early spread of sophisticated mobile phones and 3G services, which took care of most mobile demand. But when smartphones and other mobile devices began flooding the market after 2009, demand outstripped supply. Foreign visitors turned to travel forums such as Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree website to get information on where they could get online.

Many Tokyoites looking to save on data costs still turn to old wireless standbys in the capital, including Apple stores, the Wired Cafe chain and Starbucks. The experience, however, can be disappointing.

“Primarily I’ve used public Wi-Fi at Starbucks but also in the Marui department stores,” says Jason Muell, a translator living in Tokyo. “I’ve also used it at a variety of cafes (Tully’s, etc.), but generally the experience is pretty poor. The vast majority of the time, ‘free Wi-Fi’ is actually ‘branded Wi-Fi’ for SoftBank Group Corp., KDDI Corp. or NTT Docomo Inc. and not available to the public. What’s worse, they generally all have landing pages and auto-timeout options, Marui being with worst, with only 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi before booting you. That said, Narita Airport has pretty good Wi-Fi access. Every time I’ve gone, I’ve always been impressed with their coverage over most of the airport.”

Online at the Olympics

Tokyo is now swimming in hot spots, thanks in no small part to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Olympics has had its fair share of scandal, including allegations of illicit payments in the bidding process, but it has helped spread wireless internet with surprising speed. While they aren’t involved in infrastructure building per se, the organizers see Wi-Fi access in competition venues and surrounding areas as extremely important.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is one of many entities that has been pushing to open up wireless. In December 2015, the TMG launched a group of wireless local area networks (WLANs) that operate under the ID FREE_Wi-Fi_and_TOKYO. The service is free, with no time limits for up to two weeks. The only constraints are the need to register an email address or SNS account, and agreeing to the terms of use. To help promote it further, there’s a 24-hour help line providing service in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

The service is available in locations such as Hibiya and Yoyogi parks, Ueno Zoo, the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and other museums, as well as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government offices in Shinjuku (a popular sightseeing spot for their upper-level observation decks), and the recently opened Tourist Information Center in the new Busta Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal. In addition, there are about 10 roadside maps and digital signs in Shinjuku and Ueno that are also Tokyo Metropolitan Government hot spots.

The good thing about the Tokyo Metropolitan Government network is that it gives users access to other WLANs in Tokyo, both transit- and area-based, without having to register for them. There are 143 stations on Toei and Tokyo Metro subway lines, including hubs such as Otemachi, Ikebukuro and Shinjuku, with free hot spots that are compatible with Tokyo Metropolitan Government registration. Tokyo’s fleet of public buses, which number around 1,500, also has Wi-Fi. Neighborhood WLANs include Shinjuku (Shinjuku_Free_Wi-Fi), which has hot spots in stores and on streets, and Marunouchi (JAPAN-FREE-WIFI), including the Shin-Marunouchi Building and Tokyo International Forum.

source by japantimes
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