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Tuesday, 17th June 2014
In General Japan News,

Plans for tourist Wi-Fi unveiled

Japan might have a reputation for being technologically advanced, but anyone travelling there already has known the frustration of being unable to get free Wi-Fi - something that is escalated by the fact it is impossible to get a Japanese SIM card without an address in the country.

Some cities have already taken steps to address this problem, with Kyoto and Fukuoka among those offering travellers access to networks without charge. However, these are known for being restrictive, limited and as bewildering as using Windows 8 for the first time.

Such difficulties may well be a thing of the past if the government has its way, with plans being implemented that will provide tourists with free Wi-Fi from 45,000 hotspots across eastern Japan.

The initiative, implemented by the nation's largest telecom NTT, has been pushed partly by the Department for Communications, which is hoping to set in place infrastructure that will support the flood of tourists arriving for the 2020 Olympics.

Visitors wishing to utilise the service need only present their passport at a Japanese airport or register for a Wi-Fi card that will allow them access. Potential users are being advised to download the NAVITIME Japan Travel application for iOS or Android before they arrive, as this has been optimised to show where the free Wi-Fi spots are. Hotspots have been installed in Tokyo, Hakone, Mount Fuji, Yokohama, Nagano, Nikko, Kusatsu, Tohoku, Hokkaido and Fukushima, and they will be trialled until September 2014.

Access to the network is only permitted for 14 days or 336 hours, meaning those planning an extended stay in the country will have to seek other options. These may include renting a data only SIM card for a mobile phone which will allow internet access, or acquiring a portable Wi-Fi provider, although both of these options have a reputation for being relatively expensive.

The Japanese government is apparently making a significant effort to make the nation's communications network more tourist friendly. An unrelated press conference last week saw state secretary for communications Yoko Kamikawa announce a raft of new measures. 

These included promotion of free Wi-Fi services, the use of Japanese SIM cards in foreign smartphones and a reduction in international roaming fees. Short term plans include setting up a council of related organisations this summer to discuss methods of developing Wi-Fi networks that can be easily utilised by foreign nationals, such as the one outlined above.

Japan's major cities - particularly Tokyo - are already experiencing a wealth of changes that will prepare them for the flood of visitors expected to arrive for the 2020 Olympic Games. These include facial recognition software being trailed at the Narita and Haneda airports and an increase in written English on street signs and menus at restaurants in tourist areas.

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