Technology: ictQatar expands iParks public WiFi access across country
The iParks initiative has expanded from five parks in 2007 at launch to nine parks across Qatar, as the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQatar) connected two more parks to the internet in 2014, writes technology correspondent M. Iqbal.
The latest parks to be added to the matrix are Shahaniya in Al Rayan and the public park in Umm Salal. The other seven locations are: Al Wakrah Public Park, Corniche Al Khor, Simaisma Public Park, Dukhan Public Park and Sheraton, Rumailah and Dahl Al Hamam public parks in Doha.
The shared Internet speed at each of the nine parks is now eight megabytes per second (mbps) or higher, according to the recently-released ictQatar Annual Report 2013/14.
The initiative is part of the ministry’s attempt to broaden Internet access, especially for low-skilled transient workers, who otherwise may not have the opportunity to obtain online access. The ministry provides free WiFi access to the public in the nine parks. According to the report, the service is accessible through a “simple, secure registration process in either English or Arabic and supported by a 24/7 customer care hotline”.
And if figures are anything to go by, the strategy is paying off. The total number of log-ins increased from 195,737 in 2011 to 689,000 in 2013, a rise of more than 250 percent in just two years. The initiative seems to have worked so well for ictQatar that it plans to expand free WiFi coverage to public places other than parks across Qatar.
The initiative fits well within the ministry’s larger objective of keeping Qatar well-connected. The National Broadband Plan, announced in December 2013, aims to offer all residents of Qatar a choice of at least two broadband service providers by 2016.
The 10-year plan also aims to make affordable 100 mbps Internet connections available to 95 percent of households in Qatar, in addition to at least one gigabyte per second (gbps) Internet speed for businesses, schools, hospitals and government institutions.
Qatar continued to rank number one for the second year running in Arab nations on Global Information Technology Report 2014’s Networked Readiness Index. Worldwide, Qatar ranked 23 out of the 148 countries included. The country aims to maintain the position with Qatar National Broadband Network – a government-owned company that is working to connect all of Qatar’s urban and rural areas via fibre optics – and the formation in 2014 of an independent Communications Regulatory Authority, which will work to introduce new service providers in the market and improve the clarity in the regulatory framework.