Japan’s communications ministry finalizes plan for 30,000 Wi-Fi spots by 2020

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Staff Writer

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry announced on Monday a finalized plan to establish 30,000 Wi-Fi access points nationwide in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The ministry had said in 2015 that its major objective is to provide connectivity to victims of potential disasters and to tourists. It planned to install Wi-Fi in public facilities such as schools, government buildings, museums and cultural heritage sites, including historical ruins.

“A total of 14,000 facilities are done, and there are 16,000 more” still to be equipped with Wi-Fi networks, said Go Katsuhata, a ministry official in charge of local internet access.

All except those in some locations, such as schools, will be free to use by the general public.

An earlier plan aimed for 29,000 spots, but an extra 1,000 facilities were added after negotiations with municipal governments nationwide, he said.

According to 2015 data from the ministry, 86 percent of Japan’s major airports were equipped with Wi-Fi, but the rate fell to only 32 percent of major train stations. A mere 4 percent of the nation’s public buses offered a wireless connection to the internet.

Other tourism-related facilities are also lacking in connectivity. For example, only 26 percent of visitor centers in national parks and 11 percent of museums have hot spots.

Schools likewise are lagging, according to a survey by the education ministry. As of last March, just 26.1 percent of elementary and junior high schools had Wi-Fi, although 87.7 percent had LAN access.

Of all non-Japanese visitors surveyed by the ministry, 32.7 percent said Japan is behind on Wi-Fi availability.

Shintaro Ogi, another ministry official, said there could be as many as 10,000 free Wi-Fi spots across the country set up by mobile carriers, but he did not know how many there are in Tokyo.

NTT Docomo Inc. in 2014 launched a smartphone app called Japan Connected-Free Wi-Fi that allows users to search for and access over 145,000 Wi-Fi spots nationwide. Similar services provided by other carriers include Travel Japan Wi-Fi by KDDI Corp., to access some 200,000 spots, and SoftBank Corp.’s Free Wi-Fi Passport with 400,000 spots.

Katsuhata stressed that disaster prevention is the main aim of the government in readying public Wi-Fi connection, but added that the connectivity can be used for many purposes.

“It will also be used in classrooms by students and in tourist centers, as planned by the education ministry and the Japan Tourism Agency,” he said.