Fri, Jun 23, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Taipei to drop Wifly rates

WEB ACCESS The city will offer wireless Internet service at lower rates and is adding an Internet phone service, in the hope of attracting 200,000 users by the year's end

By Jason Tan  /  STAFF REPORTER

With lower rate plans and a Skype-like feature to be launched in September, the Taipei City Government is hoping more users will sign up for its wireless service, or Wifly, by the end of the year.

There will be new plans offering users lower rates in terms of pay per minute, said Chang Sheng (張聖), vice president of the wireless business group at Q-ware Systems and Services Corp (安源資訊), the contractor of the Wifly project.

Infrequent use

"Some users are not using the service that frequently, which has prompted us to introduce the cheaper plans to enlarge our user base," he said at an event yesterday at which Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) announced that the new Taipei Arena has now gone "wireless."

The new rates will be offered for prepaid services, and users can expect to pay less than NT$0.9 per minute, Chang said.

Free trials of Wifly ended in January, and users currently pay either NT$399 per month as a subscriber, or prepaid rates of NT$500 a month or NT$100 a day.

Wifly users will also be able to enjoy a new Internet phone feature similar to the popular Skype service, which allows users to make calls for free, or at a cheaper rate compared with those of telecommunications operators.

"Internet phone service occupies less broadband bandwidth and will entice users given the lower call rates," Chang added.

90 percent coverage

With the Taipei Arena now offering wireless service, around 90 percent of Taipei's population will be covered by Wifly by the end of next month, which is seven months behind the initial target.

The wireless initiative began with free trials in September 2004 and is part of the government's "M-City" (mobile city) project, which aims to turn Taipei into a wireless city. Total investment in the project is now at more than NT$1 billion (US$30.6 million).

With a wireless connection, residents can access the Web through their laptops or personal digital assistants, and can save on phone charges if they use Wi-Fi phones to make calls through the Internet.

The first phase of the Wifly project was concluded in January last year, covering 30 mass rapid transit (MRT) stations and their neighborhoods, which translated into wireless coverage for 20 percent of the city's population.

The second phase, which was completed in December last year, expanded that coverage to 50 percent of the population, including major business areas such as the Xinyi, Ximending and Dunhua districts, as well as underground malls connected to MRT stations.

By the end of the year, the government intends to attract at least 200,000 subscribers to its service, up from the current 32,000.

Better marketing

To meet the target, one analyst said that the government would need to boost its marketing to make users more aware of the wide Wifly coverage.

As not many households are choosing to set up wireless access points at home, lower rates for Wifly service will prompt more users to opt for the service, according to Simon Yang (楊勝帆), an analyst with Topology Research Institute (拓墣產業研究所).

"NT$0.9 is a reasonable benchmark rate for Internet service providers, and is still within the range where they can make a profit. But if rates could be slashed by half in the future, making it cheaper than the current price for household broadband, more people will be willing to go for it," he added.

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