Free wireless service in Japan eyed to help promote tourism

Free wireless service in Japan eyed to help promote tourism
This picture taken on March 3, 2015 shows foreign tourists visiting Nakamise shopping street in Tokyo's Asakusa district

The government plans to set up public wireless local area networks at 30,000 locations nationwide, including tourist spots and evacuation facilities, by 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The aim of this project is to establish infrastructure to provide useful information in several foreign languages to attract more foreign tourists to the country and thereby help local areas vitalize their economies.

Lately foreign visitors tend to pick their traveling destinations by reading other visitors' impressions on the Internet.

The government estimates that by providing wireless networks free of charge, the number of foreign visitors to Japan will increase by 1.46 million annually, and push up spending by an annual ¥210.2 billion (S$2.3 billion).

Free wireless local area networks will be made available in national and quasi-national parks, other places of scenic beauty, and museums. To date, networks are available at only 10 to 25 per cent of such tourist spots.

New networks will be set up at tourist information centres within the premises of such locations.

Foreign visitors will be able to browse through tourist information in several languages on the spot by using their smartphones or tablet devices, and have an easier time finding means of transportation to reach certain locations or lodgings.

Anticipating that foreign tourists might get caught in disaster situations, wireless local area networks will also be set up at evacuation facilities.

According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, there are about 88,000 evacuation areas and shelters nationwide.

However, only 0.1 per cent of evacuation areas and 1 per cent of shelters have a network setup. This could cause foreigners to have difficulty obtaining necessary information.

The cost of putting the networks in place is expected to reach ¥31.1 billion overall, about half of which will be covered by the government.

Local governments or private firms that operate the networks are expected to cover the rest.

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