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Japan Tourists Get Wi-Fi on the Fly
By Brad Frischkorn

Travelers to Japan no longer need to sneak around like ninjas to capture the nearest, cheapest Wi-Fi signal while away from home. Enticed by the country’s ongoing tourism boom, innovative telecom providers are making connecting to the internet cheaper and easier than ever.

Enter Ninja Wi-Fi, Vision Inc.’s solution to solving the tourist’s dilemma while in Japan: the hunt for the ‘net.

Japan is famed for its clean, efficient subways, roads, and public services but has earned scorn for a lack of easy access to reliable internet service. In short, there are not enough Wi-Fi spots in Tokyo, and they are hard to find.

International airports, major railway stations, and select convenience stores and coffee shops such as 7-Eleven and Starbucks do offer free hookups, but networks vary widely in terms of ease of use and accessible content. And at remote countryside inns and hot spring resorts, trying to websurf can be painstaking, slow, and expensive.

Incorporated in 2001, Vision Inc. joins a cadre of “pocket Wi-Fi” companies that have emerged in recent years. The firm’s Ninja Wi-Fi router uses broadband carrier SoftBank’s hybrid 4G LTE technology, and allows unlimited data and access to effectively all of Japan’s geographic land mass. Basic charges total $7.90 + tax per day, plus shipping and return fees. Customers can pick up and drop off the modem at the airport for free.

“There is still some confusion over how to best access the internet while on the road in Japan. Roaming services can be really expensive, while SIM cards can be hard to find, and not always compatible with some smartphones,” says Vision sales rep Rustam Makhmadaliev at a recent network technology trade show in Tokyo.

“The flat-rate simplicity of the Ninja Wi-Fi system makes it popular; it can be connected to multiple devices, and up to 10 users can log in at once, making it even cheaper.”

Vision distributes its routers though a network of airports, travel agencies, and hotels, allowing travelers to sign up before arrival in Japan. Support is available in Japanese, English, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, and Korean.

The country’s ongoing tourism boom makes the operation viable. In June, international travelers to Japan in June reached 1.99 million, up 24% from June 2015, and the highest figure ever for the month, according to Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) data.

For the first half of the year, the figure reached 11.7 million, exceeding the 10 million mark for the first time.

Most of the traffic to Japan comes from elsewhere in Asia, particularly China, which now sends some 500,000 visitors per month, followed by Taiwan and Korea. Combined monthly numbers from North America and Europe have amount to about half of China’s total.

And yet, somehow information about how to get an internet hookup while traveling in Japan has not been terribly easy to come by. In December, the government stepped in, kicking off a campaign to give tourists access to SIM cards and Wi-Fi routers, aiming to offer a better quality communications environment.

The Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) said that while it has been working to spread free Wi-Fi availability for travelers, it isn’t possible to provide blanket coverage nationwide.

Mr. Makhmadaliev views the rush to see Japan, complete with its inconveniences, as a pleasant burden to bear as the slow ramp-up to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics begins.

“All these tourists and languages are providing a good test for the country’s communications infrastructure leading up to the Games four years from now,” he says. “Japan is still a rather insular country in some respects, especially regarding hosting foreign guests; it will need all the practice it can get right now.”

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Ninja Wi-Fi router

“All these tourists and languages are providing a good test for the country’s communications infrastructure leading up to the (Olympic) Games four years from now." -- Rustam Makhmadaliev

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