A recent article in the International Herald Tribune (IHT) questions whether China's drive and enthusiasm for setting up wireless hotspots have all but cooled down.

Three years ago, China Netcom and China Telecom were competing strenuously to sign deals with hotels, airports and fast-food chains to open short-range wireless broadband access points in the major cities. So intense was the drive, that Chinese companies were deploying Wi-Fi technology about a year before their counterparts in the US and Europe, with analysts predicting rapid adoption mirroring China's steadily rising rates of Internet and mobile phone use.

Today, however, the IHT points out that no analysts is even willing to guess how many public hot spots there are on the mainland. Publicly advertised access points number fewer than 2,000 nationwide, although industry executives say there may be several hundred more tucked inside neighborhood teahouses, noodle shops and other gathering places. China remains a Wi-Fi backwater.

One cause for this was the year-long standards dispute that pitted the Chinese government against the foreign makers of the chips that enable computers to receive Wi-Fi signals. That battle ended, as we know, in April when Beijing backed down from its June 1 deadline for all makers of Wi-Fi equipment to adopt Chinese security protocols. This dispute certainly slowed things down, but it appears that developments in the industry are, once again, underway – Intel signed agreements last week with municipal governments in Dalian and Chengdu to install new broadband wireless services in the two cities.

This is not the only hinderence, however, as, in China, notebook and hand-held computers represent but a small fraction of the market. IDC says that laptops represented only about 10% of the personal computers shipped in China last year. The worldwide average is about 27%, meaning that foreign business travelers represent the largest user base for Wi-Fi. The trouble is that the marketing of the service to non-Chinese visitors has been so poor that few seem to know how to track down the nearest hot spot.


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