Faced with a rising tide of tourism and frequent complaints from overseas guests of poor WiFi coverage, the Japanese government has pledged to take action. Speaking late last week, a government spokesman said that the administration will help provide WiFi on some 300 train and bus routes, mainly to and from airports, and across the centre of Tokyo.
In recent years, visitors have been flocking to Japan in unprecedented numbers. Even before the Rugby World Cup kicks off at the Tokyo Stadium (20th September 2019) and the Olympic Opening Ceremony dazzles the world (24th July 2020), the numbers have been swelling. In 2002, during the FIFA World Cup co-hosted with South Korea, fewer than 5 million tourists arrived in Japan. Last year, that figure had reached 31.19 million people.
Determined to live up to its reputation for first class hospitality, the country has been taking the moans and groans of travellers seriously and the national government is trying to deal with one of the most common tourist bug-bears - lack of WiFi connectivity for travellers.
As a first step, foreign language support and free WiFi will be made available on 100 local bus and train routes running between airports and popular tourist sites by March 2020, with the state footing at least half the bill for these installations. In addition, special liaisons will also be posted at 87 tourist spots, including UNESCO World Heritage sites and national parks, to assist existing English tour guides. The government has also promised to streamline the screening of tourists at major airports, helping to cut down wait times.
Determined to do its bit too, the Japan Railways group has promised to provide free WiFi services on (almost) all of its 108 Shinkansen bullet trains and their stations by next year. Subway operator Tokyo Metro has also said it plans to install free WiFi for tourists in of its trains by the time the Olympics kicks off.
Central Japan Railway, West Japan Railway and Kyushu Railway have offered free WiFi on some bullet trains since last year. Central Japan Railway says it has WiFi in about 30% of all of its carriages. All three train companies, which provide the majority of train services west of Tokyo, say they will offer free WiFi on all their bullet trains by March 2020.
East Japan Railway, which covers the Tokyo area and the eastern half of the country, has been installing WiFi in bullet trains since April last year. It reports that the project will mostly be finished in fiscal 2020, although installation could be delayed in parts of the Tohoku Shinkansen, which connects Tokyo with the city of Aomori on the northern tip of Japan's main island of Honshu. On most trains, access to the free WiFi system is granted after registering an e-mail address or logging on to a social network.
Private rail companies in Japan are also launching free WiFi on their trains. Each of the 16 largest companies in this sector offer either free or paid service at their stations, according to the Japan Private Railway Association. WiFi is steadily becoming available inside trains as well.
As the nation embraces the government backed idea of “omotenashi,” – the art of doing whatever can be done to keep foreigners happy – it seems train companies will at least play their part by adding on-board WiFi. As the idea catches on in Japan, some European train companies may expect a flurry of tweets from disgruntled passengers asking where their “omotenashi” is.
On-train WiFi services, trackside networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment were the main subjects of BWCS’s recent WiFi on Trains Conference 2019 on the 4th and 5th of June.
For more information on the conference please see www.Traincomms2019.com and for more detailed country-by-country data on how the market for on-train WiFi services is developing please see www.Internet4Trains.com or contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com.
The 2019 conference (www.Traincomms2019.com ) was sponsored by Icomera, Nomad Digital, Fluidmesh, RADWIN and BAI Communications. For information on the 2020 event, please contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com.