There’s free wi-fi everywhere in Taipei: roll on the London Olympics

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Madonna promotion in Old Taipei

A tale of two cities

While Virgin Media promises us that it will be offering some free wi-fi at some London tube stations, it seems that Taipei has stolen the march on London. Because in the centre of the city there’s a free wi-fi service called TPEFree – and it works.

Various capital cities at various times over the last decade have promised to offer free wi-fi, but a promise is only a promise until it’s fulfilled.

I am in Taipei in Taiwan for Computex 2012, which starts next week. I’ve been coming here for years and it is fair to say that some Asian states are way ahead of the curve. Some years ago, I set off Network Stumbler on a bus to the convention centre, a short distance from my hotel and logged dozens of wi-fi hotspots on the route.

The hotel I’m staying in has free wi-fi and that’s far from unusual. Unlike Europe, and particularly unlike the UK, hotels here in Taipei consider these services to be like hot water and air conditioning – built into the price of the room and not a “value added” service.

I’m sure that when many visitors come to London for the Olympics, they will be astonished not only at the hiked rates that hotels are expecting, but also that you are expected to pay a premium just to have a broadband service that isn’t really very good at all.

In the early days of wi-fi hotspots it was fair enough for early adopters to charge that little bit extra. But in the second decade of the 21st century, the lack of coordinated policies in the UK for such services is a black mark on our escutcheon that no amount of PR polish will shine away. Hong Kong airport manages to cover its considerably sized airport with free wi-fi. Heathrow demands a paid service.

As we are all expected to use the internet, and because convergence has become a reality, it is high time that UK plc realises it’s years and years behind the Asian curve.

I don’t want to get into too much of a strop about this, but I had to fly through Bangkok. The authorities there confiscated a bottle of Talisker from me because Thailand has a rule that duty free goods bought anywhere have to be sealed in a plastic bag.

Heathrow Duty Free didn’t seal my plastic bag – they did ask for my final destination which was Taipei – but as they’d scanned my boarding card they knew the flight went via Bangkok. In front of me, the same thing happened to two women who had another kind of unsealed liquids – perfume. Confiscated.

It really is time the UK got all, and I mean all, of its ducks in a row.

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