With the widespread popularity of mobile intelligent terminals, the public’s demand for Internet access in public places is becoming stronger and stronger. Many places have taken the deployment of public WiFi hotspots and the provision of free WiFi services as an important content of smart city construction. However, due to various reasons, free WiFi services in many cities have encountered “Waterloo”. 16wifi and other services have been stopped in many places, reflecting the embarrassing situation of free public WiFi, which has aroused widespread concern.

Analyzing the existing problems and putting forward effective measures are of great significance to promote the continuous service of free public WiFi and improve the development level of China’s information infrastructure.

All parties actively promoted the construction of free public WiFi, but the results were less than expected

Led by government departments, vigorously promote the construction of free public WiFi. As an effective supplement to mobile communication network, public WiFi has become the daily demand of Internet users. In recent years, many governments have taken free public WiFi as a standard configuration for smart city construction and an important project to benefit the people. It has been built in public places such as transportation stations, medical institutions, cultural facilities, scenic spots and administrative service halls. WiFi access points are increasing and the coverage is expanding. Beijing began to build a public area wireless network in 2011. In May 2017, it was announced that users’ free internet access time was changed from two hours to unlimited time, and the number of access points was also increased to 943. Shanghai will achieve WiFi coverage in about 900 public places in 2015 and plans to cover 4000 in 2020. Guangzhou promoted the construction of public WiFi in 2015, and the Guangdong provincial government has taken the public WiFi coverage as one of the indicators to measure the construction level of smart city. From the perspective of construction mode, all localities basically adopt the mode of cooperation between the government and telecom operators. The government funds the purchase of services from operators, and operators carry out WiFi construction and provide operation and maintenance services.

Suggestions on measures to promote the sustainable development of free public WiFi services

Enterprises actively provide free WiFi services. As a natural entrance to traffic, public WiFi is favored by some enterprises and is willing to promote the development of other value-added services by providing free WiFi support. For example, Beijing Yilu hot spot company has launched the bus free hot spot “16wifi”, which is funded by the enterprise to build the bus WiFi hot spot, purchase the traffic of operators and be responsible for the later operation and maintenance. It hopes to obtain the mobile Internet entrance by providing free WiFi services, and then realize the revenue by advertising, traffic guidance, application distribution, games, e-commerce, big data and other businesses, 16wifi once signed 200000 buses in nearly 70 cities in China. For another example, maiwaidi, a commercial WiFi operator, cooperates with the airport to provide free WiFi services, and then obtains income through advertising and other modes. It has now operated in more than 20 major airports in China.

The construction of free public WiFi did not achieve the expected results. Although all parties have invested a lot of money in public WiFi construction, the actual effect is not ideal, and the poor experience has become a common feeling of the public. For example, in May 2017, a reporter conducted a field survey on several WiFi hotspots in Beijing, and they were unable to connect to the Internet. In addition, the media’s public survey on free public WiFi in Guangzhou showed that 91% of the respondents said they were “very dissatisfied”. Small coverage, troublesome login and too slow Internet access have become common problems reflected by the public. Free public WiFi led by enterprises also encountered operational difficulties. For example, 16wifi shut down services in 11 cities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen in February 2017, leaving only Beijing and Kunming; Subsequently, the service in Beijing was suspended in June. Many local governments or enterprises led the construction and operation of free public WiFi, which has actually “existed in name only”.

Mode problems lead to the survival crisis of free public WiFi

The cooperative construction mode between the government and telecom operators is not dynamic enough. The government funded and operator contracted construction methods are difficult to give full play to the subjective initiative of operators. Operators are only responsible for completing construction tasks and coverage indicators, and do not pay attention to the use effect. In addition, there is a conflict between free WiFi and its traffic business, which makes it more powerless to provide perfect services. In particular, in the absence of assessment, the cooperation between the government and operators is more like a “one hammer deal”. There is a lack of assessment on the actual service of WiFi, which can not effectively urge operators to ensure service quality. At the same time, due to high investment and high maintenance and upgrading cost, this model is a “bottomless hole” for the government. For example, in 2011, Beijing invested 42.71 million yuan through bidding to build 298 public places with 2m bandwidth for free wifi. With the development of mobile Internet, 2m bandwidth is far from meeting the demand, but upgrading requires a lot of money, which will also frustrate the government’s enthusiasm to a certain extent.

The free public WiFi profit model led by enterprises remains to be solved. Although enterprises expect to use free public WiFi as the traffic entrance, it seems that it is difficult to make profits in other scenarios except in some individual scenarios with large traffic, long Internet time and high user recognition, such as the airport. For example, bus 16 WiFi has developed a special app to carry advertising, video, information and other value-added services. Users must download and install the app to connect to WiFi, but it also brings cumbersome use to users. Many users are unwilling to install, greatly reducing their use. In addition, the short use time of WiFi on the bus, the unstable user group and the low consumption capacity of users also restrict the backward charging mode, resulting in the difficulty of advertising and other income to meet expectations, which is not enough to support the huge operating expenses such as construction, traffic purchase, operation and maintenance. At the same time, more and more enterprises find that the advertising browsing volume on free public WiFi is small and the transformation effect is not strong, which gradually weakens its attraction to advertising, resulting in the further narrowing of the realization channel of free public WiFi.

The government lacks effective cooperation with public WiFi service enterprises. The government is funding the construction of free public WiFi, and some enterprises are also actively building their own WiFi in some public places to explore the business model. There is a good point of cooperation between the two. However, in fact, there is little cooperation between the two sides. For example, some local (such as Shenyang) government departments invest in leading the construction of bus WiFi, while at the same time, most cities entering 16wifi have to pay “entry fee” to bus companies. This not only increases the financial burden of the government, but also increases the operation difficulty of similar enterprises.

Suggestions on measures to promote the sustainable development of free public WiFi services

Strengthen planning and design, and promote the construction of accurate location of free public WiFi. Although the government led free public WiFi is a project to benefit the people, due to the huge investment, it should also calculate the economic account. Especially with the wide deployment of broadband wireless networks and tariff reduction, the construction of free public WiFi should not “spread the cake”, but should comprehensively consider the construction cost and necessity. It is suggested that in the design stage, strengthen the statistical analysis of people flow and mobile traffic usage in public places, compare the cost of building free public WiFi and personal traffic, and scientifically plan and determine the key public places with large traffic usage and necessary to take the lead in providing free WiFi services in combination with extensive public research.

Strengthen performance appraisal and urge operators to provide high-quality services. For free WiFi funded by the government, we should strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of third-party service quality, encourage and guide social forces and the public to participate in the evaluation and supervision, regularly publish the evaluation results to the public, and serve as a reference for the government to implement policy incentives and purchase services to telecom operators and other construction, operation and maintenance enterprises in the future. Explore the mode of purchasing WiFi services in the form of installment payment, link the evaluation results with service fees, and urge operators to do a good job in WiFi services.

Strengthen government enterprise cooperation and promote win-win development through effective docking of resources. Encourage the construction of public-private partnership (PPP) mode to provide free public WiFi services, and government departments to provide a market for the development of enterprise value-added services. While reducing the financial burden of the government and independent investment by enterprises, give play to the role of market mechanism, stimulate the innovation vitality of enterprises, and promote enterprises to improve the liquidity of value-added services, Promote the sustainable development of free public WiFi construction and operation. Encourage all localities to strengthen cooperation with public WiFi service enterprises, provide them with good “admission” conditions, reduce business pressure, improve relevant incentive mechanisms, give appropriate subsidies, and support enterprises to provide high-quality and convenient WiFi services.

        Editor in charge: Tzh

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