Observations on the lack of “free” WiFi in Japan

WiFi Access point ads in Starbucks

Above is pictured a sign at (one of) my local Starbucks. Free WiFi is a rare thing here in Japan, at least in the form it takes in North America. There is no lack of internet access points here, but they require you to be able to login using either your home internet providers credentials, or your mobile phone provider credentials. A third way to gain access is to pay a monthly fee to a WiFi subscription service such as Wifine. None of these options is truly “free” WiFi as known in North America, since the fees for access points are buried in your monthly internet fees. That said, the form of free WiFi that we enjoy at the local café in Vancouver is not necessary here, as most people have some sort of internet provider. Though it does greatly inconvenience travellers such as myself, who have no domestic internet service profile.

It might seem extremely inefficient to serve internet access in this way. Rather than hooking up a WiFi basestation, or getting sponsored free WiFi (as Bell does for Starbucks in Canada), establishments have to make partnerships with a spread of service providers to best serve their customers. It isn’t like they have to setup different WiFi basestations, as logins all seem to be handled through web forms. Still though, it is not as straight forward. There must be some value in the complexity.

It is often said that your ISP knows more about you than Google or Facebook or any other web service. In Japan your internet service provider also knows where and when you are accessing the net when away from your home. It is just like how credit card companies can track your usage and use that information to target campaigns and products. I am not sure if the Japanese ISPs are doing this, but it seems that there is value in gathering this type of information. If they see you are accessing the net mostly in the morning at Starbucks, they could bundle some coupons for breakfast rolls in future promotion.

All this said, I am still boned. As someone outside of the system, my information is not valuable, and thus I do not get the benefit on “free” WiFi in Japan, or any breakfast roll coupons. Not that I am bitter…

Author: Chad Kohalyk

Bellatrist, communitarian, tech contrarian. Generous with Likes. http://chadkohalyk.com