Taiwan's Wicatch Turns Back the Clock to Offer Free Wi-Fi

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Taiwan's Wicatch plans to offer free Wi-Fi service starting from the end of this month in the capital, Taipei, the company said Thursday.

Wicatch, a subsidiary of public broadband equipment supplier Handlink Technologies, will open for business in 25 coffee shops in Taipei by the end of July and begin a long term expansion plan. The company hopes to attract 250,000 users throughout Taiwan by the end of next year, by expanding a network of 8,000 base stations throughout Taipei, Taichung and then southward to Taiwan's second biggest city, Kaohsiung.

The company's plan opens at a time Taiwan is promoting WiMax wireless broadband technology, which is supposed to replace Wi-Fi due to its broader range. Taiwan was an early promoter of WiMax technology on hopes companies on the island will benefit from equipment orders. As part of the M-Taiwan (mobile-Taiwan) plan, the government has handed out generous research grants, low-cost loans and invested in companies on the island to help jump start WiMax services.

Taiwan's first commercial WiMax broadband wireless network opened for business in April on the island of Penghu, a starter network for operator Tatung Infocomm. Other trial networks are also up and running, but formal services in big cities have been pushed back due to the global recession.

First International Telecom (Fitel), which had planned to start WiMax services in Taipei late last year, was forced to delay opening the network due to financial issues. The company says it will still launch a WiMax network but has not set a new time.

Wicatch believes it's still too early for WiMax because the network equipment is too expensive and the technology isn't quite ready, according to representative Nicholas Chang.

"Wi-Fi technology is already mature," he said, adding that "in two or three years when WiMax networks are ready, then we may seek some cooperative ventures with WiMax operators."

Wicatch is deploying Wi-Fi base stations with 802.11n technology now, and plans to reassess deployment next year when new Wi-Fi technology is ready.

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