Speeches and Presentations



LCQ6: Public Wi-Fi services

Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hak-kan and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the Legislative Council meeting today (April 30):

Question:

In his 2014-2015 Budget, the Financial Secretary indicated that the number of Wi-Fi hotspots with complete or time-limited free public access would be doubled to 20 000 by the end of this year. Yet, the Director of Audit's Report No. 60 pointed out that, in the web-based user satisfaction surveys on the Government Wi-Fi (GovWiFi) service conducted by the contractor concerned, of the 8 671 users who took part in the surveys, 19% had encountered problems in using or connecting to the relevant service. In addition, some members of the public have relayed to me that from time to time, there have been cases of difficulty in connecting to GovWiFi service, slow data transmission and disconnection of the service, rendering the quality of the GovWiFi service inferior to that of private Wi-Fi services. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows (i) the average monthly usage, (ii) the year-on-year growth rate of the monthly usage, (iii) the average upload and download speeds, and (iv) the average disconnection rate, of the public and private Wi-Fi services in various District Council districts in the past three years; of the district with the highest usage of Wi-Fi services in the past three years;

(2) whether it has assessed if the data transmission speed of GovWiFi service meets the needs of general users; if the assessment outcome is in the affirmative, of the details; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, the reasons for that;

(3) of the locations at which the additional Wi-Fi hotspots mentioned above will be installed; with the doubling of the number of Wi-Fi hotspots to 20 000, of the extent to which the coverage of GovWiFi service will be expanded;

(4) whether it has plans to launch a pilot scheme, in the district with the highest usage or highest usage growth rate of GovWiFi service, to provide full service coverage for the district concerned; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) whether it has carried out technical upgrading of GovWiFi service across the territory in the past three years; whether it has plans at present to carry out technical upgrading of GovWiFi service; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(6) whether it has considered providing GovWiFi service at all tourist attractions in Hong Kong;

(7) of the expenditure, as estimated by the Government, required for upgrading the quality of GovWiFi service to a level on par with that of private Wi-Fi services; and

(8) as the Government indicated in the Digital 21 Strategy that it would build Hong Kong as a Wi-Fi city, of the amount of public money spent so far on implementing the relevant measures?

Reply:

President,

To further advance Hong Kong's position as a highly connected city, the Government proposed in the 2014 Digital 21 Strategy to:

(i) extend the free Government Wi-Fi Programme (GovWiFi) service to more government premises;

(ii) collaborate with the industry to facilitate and promote a common Wi-Fi branding for Wi-Fi services which are offered by the public and private sectors completely free or time-limited free of charge; and

(iii) facilitate other government-related organisations to partner with Wi-Fi service operators to provide time-limited free access of public Wi-Fi services at their facilities.

Regarding the questions raised by Hon Chan Hak-kan, my reply is as follows:

(1) For GovWiFi, the average monthly usage and the year-on-year growth rate in the 18 districts of Hong Kong in the past 3 years are as follows:

  2011 (Average monthly user count) 2012 (Average monthly user count) 2013 (Average monthly user count) Year-on-year growth rate (%)
Central and Western District60,10486,337104,27932%
Yau Tsim Mong65,59285,704101,71425%
Wan Chai61,14177,05685,65318%
Eastern District38,93850,53250,21214%
Sham Shui Po27,53938,56841,10922%
Sha Tin 29,27339,34939,00115%
Kwun Tong23,16532,12538,44729%
Yuen Long21,34528,62538,32234%
North District21,411 32,92836,24230%
Kowloon City20,43527,29528,41918%
Kwai Tsing20,18627,74925,72313%
Tsuen Wan17,65124,70625,54420%
Wong Tai Sin16,570 23,33024,85322%
Southern District18,80423,41324,81115%
Tai Po 20,76426,94824,4398%
Sai Kung14,67921,11020,98520%
Tuen Mun12,27317,17017,464 19%
Islands5,8668,7149,64528%


To ensure that GovWiFi provides reasonable service level, there is a connection speed limit set for each user. In general, the average uploading and downloading speed for each user is about 1 to 2 Mbps, with maximum up to 3 Mbps. The actual performance of public Wi-Fi service depends on the number of concurrent users and the signal strength at the location where the user is situated. Service disconnections are often caused by prevailing environmental conditions, such as interference from other wireless devices or other Wi-Fi services nearby, weather condition, signal blockage by obstacles like trees and moving objects, etc. We do not have figures on average disconnection rate.

In 2013, the highest average monthly usage of the GovWiFi service was in the Central and Western District.

We do not have the related figures with regard to the usage, uploading and downloading speed, as well as average disconnection rate of the Wi-Fi services provided by other public and private sectors.

(2) The current connection speed provided by the GovWiFi service can support general Internet surfing and video streaming. We periodically review the connection speed of GovWiFi service and the overall bandwidth for the premises, and suitably adjust the bandwidth according to service usage and demand. To ensure service quality, we conducted comprehensive on-site service checks at all GovWiFi premises in 2013. We also monitor daily the number of user connections and bandwidth usage at GovWiFi premises. When the usage keeps on growing, we will enhance the service by increasing the overall bandwidth and adding hotspots at the premises.

Moreover, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer set up the GovWiFi Maintenance Board with members from major participating departments to manage and monitor the GovWiFi service. Under the supervision of the Maintenance Board, we perform monthly sample checks at the GovWiFi premises to test the service performance on-site, including transmission speed and connection stability, etc. We also convene service management meetings with the contractors on a regular basis to review the service level, and conduct round-the-clock monitoring of the GovWiFi service performance. In addition, we will enhance the service based on user suggestions collected through the 24-hour GovWiFi helpdesk hotline and the standing online survey on the GovWiFi portal.

(3) Currently, the Wi-Fi services which are offered by the public and private sectors completely free or time-limited free of charge have around 10 000 hotspots in more than 5 400 locations covering all 18 districts in Hong Kong, including government premises and public areas, tourist spots, major transport facilities (such as airport, MTR stations, ferry terminals, buses and ferries), coffee shops, restaurants, shopping centres and so on. Specifically, GovWiFi provides free Wi-Fi service to the public and visitors through more than 2 500 hotspots at government premises with high patronage and high public demand as well as premises that can facilitate the delivery of e-government services and promote the image of Hong Kong (447 premises in total).

To further advance Hong Kong’s position as a highly connected city, the Government proposed in the 2014 Digital 21 Strategy to extend the free GovWiFi service to more government premises, including leisure locations and popular focal points such as beaches, major district parks and harbourfront promenades, etc. The numbers of GovWiFi premises and hotspots from 2012 to 2014 are as follows:

  Number of premises Number of hotspots
20123952,000
20134372,300
2014 (Estimate)4802,700


Moreover, the Government will also facilitate other government-related organisations (such as public hospitals) to partner with Wi-Fi service operators to provide time-limited free access of public Wi-Fi services at their facilities. With the concerted efforts of the industry and the Government, it is estimated that the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots providing completely free or time-limited free of charge services will be doubled from the current 10 000 to 20 000 by the end of 2014. As the public Wi-Fi hotspots are mainly provided by service operators and private organisations, the locations and coverage of Wi-Fi hotspots will hinge on the public Wi-Fi development plans of relevant parties.

(4) The objective of the GovWiFi Programme is to install Wi-Fi facilities at government premises with high patronage in all 18 districts to provide free Wi-Fi service for the public and visitors. As stated in part (3) of the reply, GovWiFi will be extended to popular focal points. When providing GovWiFi service, we need to give due consideration to its cost-effectiveness. We do not have any pilot scheme to provide full service coverage for a particular district. We will continue to monitor the number of connections and bandwidth usage at the GovWiFi premises, and when the usage keeps on growing, we will enhance the service by increasing the overall bandwidth and adding hotspots at the premises.

(5) Since the launch of the GovWiFi service in 2008, there has been a steady growth in the usage. Hence, after the expiry of the GovWiFi service contract in December 2012, the Government launched the next generation GovWiFi Programme with technical enhancement on the service. When the new service was launched in December 2012, on top of the existing IEEE 802.11b/g Wi-Fi standards and Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) support, IEEE 802.11n standard and Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) support were also introduced to provide better signal coverage, enable faster data transfer, reduce signal interference, support Internet services delivered through IPv6 and increase the bandwidth limit for each user, with maximum up to 3Mbps. As stated in parts (3) and (4) of the reply, we will also conduct review on a regular basis to examine the need for further enhancement on wireless network technologies, etc.

(6) One of the objectives of the GovWiFi Programme is to promote the image of Hong Kong. The GovWiFi Programme currently covers a number of tourist spots that are government premises, providing free Wi-Fi services to the public and visitors.

The GovWiFi Programme currently covers the tourist spots which are government premises, including the following:

   Tourist Spots
   -------------
1. The Peak (Peak Road Garden)
2. Avenue of Stars (Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade)
3. Bird Garden
4. Cheung Chau (at public library, sports centre and public enquiry service centre)
5. Clock Tower (Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade)
6. Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza
7. Hong Kong Heritage Museum
8. Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence
9. Hong Kong Museum of History
10. Hong Kong Park
11. Hong Kong Science Museum
12. Hong Kong Space Museum
13. Kowloon Walled City Park
14. Lamma Island (at north and south Lamma public libraries)
15. Ping Shan Heritage Trail (at Ping Shan Tang Clan Gallery cum Heritage Trail Visitors Centre)
16. Repulse Bay Beach
17. Stanley Waterfront Mart cum Stanley Promenade
18. Hong Kong Wetland Park (at visitor centre)
19. Hong Kong Tourism Board - Kowloon Visitor Centre
20. Golden Bauhinia Square cum Wai Chai Temporary Promenade
21. Kai Tak Cruise Terminal

As there are many tourist attractions in Hong Kong and plenty of them are run by private entities, the Government will not provide GovWiFi service in all tourist attractions.

(7) When providing the free GovWiFi service, the Government must take account of cost-effectiveness, such as the patronage of the premises and the service usage. The current bandwidth for each user is sufficient for general Internet usage, including Internet surfing and video streaming. In addition to the services available in normal public Wi-Fi service, GovWiFi also offers the following additional services:

(i) No need for user registration;

(ii) Network security, such as firewalls, peer-to-peer blocking function, encrypted channel and regular security risk assessment and audit;

(iii) Content filtering system to block those websites that are classified as containing obscene, indecent, malicious or illegal contents. The content filtering arrangements would be adjusted at some premises in accordance with the Internet usage policy specified by the premises concerned, so as to align with the operation of these premises. For example, online gambling and online games websites are blocked by the content filtering system at public libraries; and

(iv) 24-hour network monitoring and helpdesk hotline service, etc.

As the service levels of Wi-Fi services provided by different service providers differ from each other, and their service scopes also vary, these services cannot be directly compared.

(8) The Finance Committee of the Legislative Council allocated a total funding of $286 million in 2007 and 2011 for the provision of GovWiFi service for 10 years up to 2017. As at March 2014, the total expenditure of GovWiFi was around $212 million, which included the expenditure for the provision of GovWiFi service by the contractor and programme coordination, management and support by the Government, hotspots and network setup, site preparation work, installation, daily operation and maintenance, security management, content filtering service, monthly Internet access service of the premises, 24-hour network monitoring and helpdesk hotline service, etc.

To implement the proposals in the 2014 Digital 21 Strategy, we have reserved $1.3 million in 2014-15 for the establishment and promotion of a common Wi-Fi branding, including inviting relevant organisations in the industry and public organisations to participate in promoting the brand, arranging an online voting for the public to select their preferred brand, developing a website and a mobile application, as well as conducting related promotion activities.

Ends/Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Issued at HKT 13:40