With the majority of residents in Qatar coming from regions far and wide across the globe, it’s no wonder that the internet is popular here. And last month, ictQATAR made it just a bit easier to get online, wiring up two more parks in the city as free wireless internet hotspots. This brings the total number of wired parks in Doha to five – Al Wakrah public park and Corniche Al Khor joins Rumaila, Sheraton and Dahl Al Haman – since the project first started in 2007.
But is this level of internet availability really necessary? Fathy Kassem, outreach and public awareness manager at ictQATAR, thinks so. ‘The goal is to promote the use of internet by the public, increase content, especially Arabic content, and ultimately spread the service to as many public places as possible,’ she says. ‘When the number of users increased to more than 10,000 per month, ictQATAR and the Municipality and Urban Planning (MMUP ) decided to upgrade and expand this useful public service to outside Doha.’
A quick walk-through any of the wired areas tells you why. The majority of the users seem to be workers, laborers, and people who might not be able to afford or get internet service in their homes, or access the internet at work. And while many venues, like coffee shops and restaurants, will offer free Wi-Fi to their customers, this isn’t necessarily an option that suits everyone – and it helps to make the internet more accessible. By providing free access in public spaces, workers are able to email their loved ones, message their friends and stay connected – even if they don’t receive a Qtel bill. ‘We want to avail connectivity to people who do not have it at home,’ says Kassem.
It’s part of a global trend in connectivity: although much of the developing world still doesn’t have reliable electricity, their mobile phone coverage is often better than the developed world. And Asia, particularly places like Seoul, South Korea, have had almost complete wireless coverage for years: something countries like the United States and Canada have yet to match. Coupled with Creative Commons licensing, a free online system of copywriting your work, dictating how and where it can be used, it’s a global trend towards seeing the web as a truly free and democratic space which everyone has a right to access. ‘This is part of ictQATAR’s mission to connect people to technologies that will enrich their lives, connect them to one another and the rest of the world,’ says Kassem. ‘The project was initially implemented in three public parks in Doha – Rumaila Park, Sheraton Park and Dahl Al Hamam Park. The initiative was well received by the residents, especially as it provided visitors to these parks an excellent opportunity to access free wireless amidst a refreshing natural environment.’
While how ‘refreshing’ a Doha summer really is is up for debate, the speed offered is not. No slow and lumbering connections here: all the parks offer connection speeds of 8MB per second, with the older parks having their wireless upgraded from 4MB per second last month. It’s also relatively secure – a start screen instructs you to send an SMS to receive a PIN to log on, in both English and Arabic.
And although some users point out the irony of Qatar, which censors internet access for most of the population, offering free connectivity, there is also a reason: money. ‘This second phase costs QR6 million. This cost includes the upgrade of the service, expansion to two additional services, and connectivity costs for three years,’ says Kassem. That’s a price point that many municipalities around the globe have balked at, but which Qatar, with one of the highest GDPs in the world, can afford. Although solid dates or locations couldn’t be confirmed yet, there are plans to continue expanding the wireless network. Dare we dream of a totally wireless Qatar?
For more information, head to www.ictqatar.qa.
Free internet for all!
Our favourite places to score free browsing time.
Alison Nelson’s Chocolate Bar
Free Wi-Fi and a funky ambience, plus gorgeous water views
One of our favourite cafés, it scores for tasty treats and a liberal attitude to internet use
Sharq Village & Spa.
Ample plug-in space and some of the best cheesecake around keep us (and our faulty laptop batteries) going
Grand Hyatt Doha.
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art
Free internet surrounded by gorgeous works of art? Yes, please!