Best Cities for Free Wi-Fi October 30 2013

Currently, we are more connected than we have ever been.  This can be both beneficial, and detrimental, to our daily tasks.  Without access to a network, our hardware is rendered useless in terms of communication.  When travelling, it is essential you have access to basic, modern amenities like Wi-Fi.  Whether it is to upload pictures, attend a business meeting, or simply Skype with a loved one, it is best to know where to go.   Since 2009, the amount of Wi-Fi hotspots in the world has tripled.  Only 20%, however, are considered free.  There are four major cities internationally, that have the most unlimited access to free Wi-Fi in the world.  You don’t always have to buy a coffee, or find a library, to send an e-mail.


Mountain View, CA (United States)

Home to Google, and situated in the middle of Silicon Valley, this city is pretty much a given.  In a community based effort, Google provides free Wi-Fi to the entire town.  They have a 5 year contract with the municipality, which allowed them to install wireless transmitters on city owned street-light poles.  In exchange, Google pays the annual fee for the poles, amongst other things.   Mountain View is officially the first city in the United States to have absolute and uninhibited, free access.  The network is “Google Wi-Fi” and the only requirement is a Google account.  These are the initial stages of a much larger project, which will exchange free access for advertising campaigns.  Google plans to expand this into its neighboring city of San Francisco.   Seoul already has a program in place for this exact business model and it is very successful.


Seoul (South Korea)

This city is the world leader in free Wi-Fi, with over 83% of the population connected in one way or another.  In addition, it has the fastest internet speed on the planet.  Seoul is home to tech giants Samsung, LG, and SK Telecom.  LG has funded a massive campaign to offer everyone in South Korea free access.  They simply have to register an account with the company, and sit through a 15 second ad every hour.  The network is called the “Free_U+zone.”  This gives the city one of the best municipal wireless plans worldwide.  Seoul is also rolling out plans that will offer free Wi-Fi on all buses, trains and other forms of public transportation. 

Seoul offers some of the world’s only super hot spots.  These are known as PC Baangs (PC Room in English.)  South Korea has a massive population of gamers.  They mostly play MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) that usually require a lot of bandwidth.  Therefore, gamers are best known to seek out the fastest Wi-Fi.  In the country, top gamers are comparable to celebrities and super LAN cafés are where they are born.


Tallinn (Estonia)

The Discovery Channel named this city amongst one of the top ten for free Wi-Fi in the world.  This is mainly due to the initiative shown by large enterprises.  The city spends over 60,000 EUR each year on a contract with Elion Enterprises to provide free access to the entire city.  Every year the area of coverage expands further.  Tallinn established an Internet Task Force in 2005 that has proposed a multitude of ideas on the development.  This includes examples such as: public transportation, schools, hospitals and specific Wi-Fi summer areas.  Another genius detail is the fact that the hotspots are all clearly marked with black and orange signs. 

The city is also home to Skype, and in 2004 the Estonian government branded the country with the name “E-Stonia.”  The main reason behind this marketing tactic was to drum up attention for its commitment to technological growth.  The man mostly responsible for providing Tallinn with the idea for free Wi-Fi is Velijo Haamer.  He was inspired by his trip to New York City in which he was able to gain access to a network while sitting in Bryant Park.  When he returned home, he began installing Wi-Fi in cafes and bars.  He convinced the owners to work some of the costs into the price of the food and drink.  The city has been so lucrative with its Wi-Fi program, it is now crossing the border into countries like Latvia.


Paris (France)

Paris has developed its own municipal wireless network.  The service is known as “wee-fee” and was first introduced in 2003.  Various towers were constructed that housed thousands of routers to create a wireless net around the city.  Most of the antennas were erected near the Metro stations due to high traffic and peak hour usage.   The LAN can be accessed almost anywhere in the city, and is delivered by The Cloud and FON.   It is not uncommon for the local government to use a private firm to build and operate such networks.  Each city tends to have their own rules and regulations regarding these systems, as well.   In Paris, the sessions last for two hours and the network is not available between the hours of 11 p.m. – 7 a.m.

There is much debate on whether to offer an entire city free access to Wi-Fi.  The issue involves a lot of politics that touch on themes such as: security and funding.  This is a costly venture and many cities, like: New Orleans, Dublin, and Chicago, have failed.  Blanket coverage is a highly debated issue and involves a layered planning process.  Several cities, however, have managed to broker a plan that works for them, and have seen a boost in tourism, accordingly.  So, the next time you are looking to travel:  Paris, Seoul, Mountain View, and Tallinn, are four places you know you’ll never spend a dime to get online!