Japan’s transportation companies beefing up public WiFi access ahead of 2020 Olympics


Japanese public transportation operators are responding to the huge tourist demand of free Internet access by increasing WiFi access services at train stations and on airplanes. With the widespread use of smartphones and tablet devices, foreign tourists have been requesting that Internet access be improved in Japan, especially with the tourist jackpot of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics just a few years away.

Japan Airlines (JAL), the nation’s official carrier, had initially offered onboard Internet access via WiFi starting in July 2012, but only on some of its international flights. The access is through satellite broadband internet, available at all times during the flight except during takeoff and landing. JAL now plans to expand the service to domestic flights in July, while rival carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) also launched a similar service for its international flights in March.

Trains and train stations are also favorite haunts of tourists, especially those who want to stick to a budget. Railway operators are now also offering WiFi hotspots, mostly targeting foreign tourists. West Japan Railway Co. is set to broaden its WiFi service to a total of 26 stations and related facilities in western Japan on Thursday. East Japan Railway Co. has installed WiFi service equipment at 18 stations mainly in central Tokyo.

All this is a reaction across the board to a 2011 survey by the Japan Tourism Agency. The data showed that some 24 percent of tourists in Japan cited the lack of WiFi and other free Internet access services to be the most inconvenient aspect of their stay in Japan. The agency now believes that Japan can attract more foreign tourists if free Internet connections allow them to post information, including ones that highlight tourist spots on social networking platforms.

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