Estonia seems like an odd place to start, but the wireless coverage here is impressive. Credit goes to Veljo Haamer, the founder of WiFi.ee, for jump-starting the effort. Haamer preached wireless evangelism that registered with tech-savvy government officials, spurred customer demand, and resulted in fruitful competition to provide service. Now young entrepreneurs can easily start wireless Internet companies with inexpensive 5-GHz transmitters attached to cell towers.
This Korean city of 10 million has one of the most seamless wireless networks in the world. Koreans use WiMax, a much faster network with a larger reach than Wi-Fi. Telecommunications company KT’s WiBro works throughout the subway system and even on the Seoul-Busan expressway. Subscriptions costs between $11 and $43 a month and more than 400,000 people are expected to subscribe by the end of 2008
Taiwan’s largest city boasts one of the largest Wi-Fi networks in the world, called WiFly. The network is operated by the company Q-Ware through a public-private partnership. The initiative had some trouble drawing subscribers for between $4.50 and $12 a month, but coupling Internet phone service, access to online multiplayer games, and an increasing number of enabled devices have made it more tempting.
4. Singapore City
The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore started its wireless initiative, called Wireless@SG, to encourage information technology in the country. The network excludes residences that already have broadband and is free until 2009. Then the wireless operators who manage the network will assess what residents and visitors want and how much they’d be willing to pay.
Back in 2003, two tech firms launched a free “weefee” trial, setting up antennas around Metro stops throughout the city. These days, mesh wireless networks from The Cloud and FON cover large swaths of the city. Strachan says he can walk around Paris with his laptop open and always find access points.
Last year a partnership between the City of London Corporation and wireless aggregator The Cloud resulted in a dense, widespread Wi-Fi network in one of the city’s districts. More than 350,000 people in the area were given free access at launch. Around the same time, Free-Hotspot.com and infrastructure firm Meshhopper launched a network along the Thames with subscriptions for $20 monthly or for free with ads.
While other cities were still ho-humming over networks, the Swedish capital was laying the groundwork for a public-owned Internet utility managed by Stockholm Cable (Stokab).
These days the city is what NewsWireless editor Guy Kewney calls “the biggest WiMax showcase you will find.” For about $30 a month, residents get an insane amount of bandwidth.
8. Hong Kong
It shouldn’t be surprising to find Hong Kong on this list considering how well-equipped the city is with inexpensive broadband access. Internet service provider Hong Kong Broadband Network invested millions last year to develop more than 1,000 free Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the city for the public. Currently plans are in the works to extend the GovWiFi program to hundreds more locations by 2009.
9. San Francisco
After a municipal wireless plan backed by Earthlink and Google failed, the Google-funded startup Meraki handed out wireless repeaters and began offering free Wi-Fi in San Francisco. However, Strachan adds an asterisk: Meraki introduced a closed architecture instead of an open-source one, reaping techie ire. And, while access is free now, the proprietary setup means that users could be charged in the future.
10. Sao Paulo
Since 2002, the state where this Brazilian city is located has invested billions of dollars in expanding Internet access. The effort has clearly paid off: Wi-Fi finder JiWire.com shows low-cost hotspots throughout the area. When computer security analysts from Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, visited the city this spring, they found at least one available Wi-Fi network on every corner.