Several cities worldwide have planned to roll out Wi-Fi networks for the benefit of their citizens. But Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is the first city to actually do it, according to Wi-Fi hotspot directory JiWire, which flew a crew in to test the system.
"Taipei is the world's largest," said Kevin McKenzie, CEO of JiWire, today. He said members of his team travelled around the city testing out the network, making sure services such as email, security and basic internet service worked fine. They gave it a passing grade.
Taipei's Wi-Fi network currently boasts over 4,000 hotspots, covering around 90 percent of the 2.6 million people in the city.
There are two companies offering access to the city-wide Wi-Fi network, Q-ware Systems, which charges Taiwan $399 (about £6.70) per month for the service, and the state-run Chunghwa Telecom. A host of other companies offer Wi-Fi throughout the city in cafes, coffee and tea shops, and other locations.
JiWire said most users should find the system in fine working order. Taipei is wired for 802.11b wireless LAN, an older but widely adopted technology.
"There are a number of cities - Mountain View, San Jose, Tempe, Arizona - making a lot of noise about Wi-Fi, but [Taipei] has really done it," said Kevin O'Reilly, director of business development at JiWire.
The mayors and IT managers for a number of cities around the world are in Taipei this week to share intelligence on building such networks, including representatives from Waterloo, Canada; Gold Coast, Australia; Glasgow, UK; Jigawa State in Nigeria, and elsewhere.
The point of Taipei's Wi-Fi network was to reduce traffic on city roads, according to Mayor Ma Ying-jeou. The idea was to ensure citizens could access all government data, application forms and other work over the internet, turning Taipei into a true digital city and reducing the need to drive to government offices. Taipei hosts Taiwan's national government offices, meaning citizens often use cars or scooters to take care national government paperwork as well.
The project has boosted some of the island's electronics manufacturers. The island produces more Wi-Fi access points, base stations and similar gear than any other place on earth.
So far, the system appears to be working fine in its infancy - it wasn't supposed to be finished until the end of next month. There have been some complaints that the companies offering the service aren't signing up many users because there are so many alternatives that cost less or are free.
But building Taipei's Wi-Fi system and bringing it up to quality levels to pass independent testing by JiWire was no simple task. It required work from several major local companies in addition to consulting help from multinationals including HP and Intel.
"Having this baby wasn't easy. It was a very difficult pregnancy," said Rosemary Ho, managing director of HP Taiwan.