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LCQ12: 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, in the Legislative Council today (November 4):


     As at September 2015, around 560 government premises had access to free Wi-Fi network services provided through the Government Wi-Fi (GovWiFi) service, and there were about 2 900 GovWiFi hotspots. However, it has been reported that the results of some surveys have found that quite a number of members of the public consider that the connection speed via GovWiFi is unsatisfactory. Regarding Wi-Fi network services, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the respective government premises where the highest and the lowest GovWiFi usage rates were recorded in the past 12 months;

(2) whether it has compiled statistics on the average (i) connection speed, (ii) percentage of service disconnection and (iii) connection time, at the GovWiFi hotspots in various districts; if it has, of such data in each of the past three years; if not, whether it will compile such statistics;

(3) of the date and findings of the last review conducted by the GovWiFi Maintenance Board on the service performances of GovWiFi contractors;

(4) as the Finance Committee of this Council approved $217.6 million and $68 million in 2007 and 2011 respectively for the provision of GovWiFi service, of the uses of such funds so far;

(5) of the latest situation and related statistics regarding the installation of Wi-Fi devices by telecommunications services operators at government facilities (such as footbridges, flyovers and lamp posts); and

(6) as some rural areas are currently not yet covered by fibre-to-the-home service, whether the Government will consider extending the coverage of GovWiFi service to such areas, so that the residents concerned can enjoy high-speed Internet access services; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Government Wi-Fi Programme (GovWiFi) was launched in 2008, providing free Wi-Fi service mainly at government premises with high patronage to ensure cost-effectiveness. We have installed more than 3 000 hotspots at around 570 government premises in all 18 districts. These premises include public libraries, public enquiry service centres, job centres, community halls, major district parks, museums, sports venues, cooked food markets and centres, government buildings and offices, law court buildings, government clinics, some major tourist spots, etc. The GovWiFi service is well-received by the public. Moreover, to facilitate the public and visitors to locate and access free public Wi-Fi services in Hong Kong, we have collaborated with the industry to launch a common Wi-Fi brand "Wi-Fi.HK" in August 2014 to promote public Wi-Fi services which are offered by the public and private organisations completely free of charge or free for a certain period of time. There are now over 17 000 hotspots under the "Wi-Fi.HK" brand in all the 18 districts across the territory, including the Hong Kong International Airport, major tourist attractions, public phone booths, shopping centres and shops, restaurants, caf├ęs, convenience stores, the Cyberport, the Hong Kong Science Park, university and tertiary institution campuses, some public hospitals (waiting halls of accident and emergency departments as well as specialist out-patient clinics) and government clinics, and all government premises covered by GovWiFi. Users can enjoy at least 30 minutes' free public Wi-Fi services without prior registration.

     My reply to the six-part question is as follows:

(1) With reference to the usage of GovWiFi in the past 12 months, in terms of number of connections, the Hong Kong Central Library was recorded with the highest usage while the Stanley Community Hall was recorded with the lowest usage.

(2) To ensure a reasonable service level of the GovWiFi service and fair use by the public, there are bandwidth control and time control for each connection. In the past three years, in response to general public demand for Internet access service, we have increased the average connection speed for each user from about one to two Mbps to a maximum of about three Mbps for general use of the Internet such as web browsing as well as receiving and sending emails.

     As prior registration is not required for using the GovWiFi service, we have not collected the statistics on connection time. Moreover, based on the principle of fair use by all users, there are a 120-minute connection time limit and a 15-minute idle time limit set for the GovWiFi service. If users are disconnected from the system upon reaching the limits, they can reconnect to continue to use the service. As regards the percentage of service disconnection, technically speaking, the system cannot distinguish whether the users are disconnected from the service because they leave the venue or reach the idle time limit, or the service is disconnected due to other environmental factors or technical problems. Therefore, we do not have the statistics in this regard.

(3) The GovWiFi Maintenance Board, which consists of members from major participating departments, is responsible for monitoring the GovWiFi service and contractor performance. Under the supervision of the Maintenance Board, we perform monthly sample checks at GovWiFi premises to monitor the service performance, including transmission speed, connection stability, etc. The Maintenance Board holds quarterly meetings with the contractor to review its performance. In addition, we also convene monthly service management meetings with the contractor to review the service level, and conduct round-the-clock monitoring of the GovWiFi system to closely monitor its service performance.

(4) The Finance Committee of the Legislative Council allocated a total of $285.6 million in 2007 and 2011 for the provision of the GovWiFi service till the end of 2017. As at September 2015, the total expenditure of GovWiFi was around $231 million, including the expenditures for the GovWiFi service provided by the contractor and programme co-ordination, management and support by the Government, as well as the provision of 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, helpdesk hotline service, etc.

(5) The Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) has issued the "Guidance Note for Submission of Application for Installing Micro-cell Base Station on Highway Facilities or on Unleased and Unallocated Government Land" (Guidance Note) to facilitate the installation of radio base stations and Wi-Fi equipment on government facilities (e.g. lamp posts, footbridges and flyovers) by fixed service and mobile network operators (operators). The Guidance Note sets out in detail the procedures, requirements and issues concerning the installation of micro-cell base stations at the said locations to facilitate the submission of applications by operators. In early 2014, fixed service operators reached a preliminary agreement on the equipment and design of installation, and in mid-2014, with the assistance of the government departments concerned, two fixed service operators conducted a visual impact assessment on the Wi-Fi equipment installed on the lamp posts along Shing Mun River in Sha Tin, during which no complaints from members of the public were received by the government departments concerned. Regarding the installation of Wi-Fi equipment on the above-mentioned government facilities for provision of public Wi-Fi services at outdoor places, fixed service operators will, in accordance with their own business decisions and needs, follow the application requirements and procedures set out in the Guidance Note to submit applications to OFCA and the departments concerned. OFCA will co-ordinate with the departments concerned in vetting and processing such applications.

(6) From a technical point of view, the current Wi-Fi technology cannot function on its own. The setting up of Wi-Fi networks requires the support of broadband networks to provide Internet access services. In addition, to ensure effective use of public funds when installing GovWiFi at new premises, we will take into account the patronage of and demand for Wi-Fi services of the locations, as well as the technical feasibility, including the availability of broadband connections. To make the service facilities more cost-effective when installing Wi-Fi hotspots, priority will be given to locations with high patronage and where users can conveniently use the services. Therefore, there are certain limitations on extending the coverage of free public Wi-Fi services (including GovWiFi) to remote areas. However, we will continue to review and expand the coverage of GovWiFi according to service demand.

Ends/Tuesday, November 4, 2015
Issued at HKT 14:00