by Phi Hung
|A tourist accesses wifi while crusing in a boat along the Hoai River. The ancient city hopes free internet access will make the picturesque town even more tourist friendly.
|Tourists walk down Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street in Hoi An, where as many as 350 wi-fi hotspots have been set-up.
With an iPhone 4 in hand, Polo Morales from Spain took video clips and pictures of Hoi An at every corner and sent them live to his friends all over the world.
"Every step I took in this beautiful town could be seen live via Facebook, Yahoo Messenger, Twitter and other social networks," he explained while walking in the main street of Tran Phu.
"Shoot pictures, captured videos, and if you want, you can stream real time videos via webcams to your friends, right from the streets," he said.
"It is like a dream, I have never been anywhere in the world that provides free wi-fi like in Hoi An."
Morales said he only had to spend US$70 on accessing the internet at a hotel during four days spent in Shanghai before coming to Viet Nam.
He is not the only one in the UNESCO World Heritage site to cheer the free wifi. Hoi An is the first city in Asia to offer such a service, which offers high-speed internet access to 80 per cent of the city centre since March this year.
Now more foreign tourists in the city are accessing the internet as they capture every moment spent in the 500 year old town in real time.
Tran Van Huan, a 19-year-old student at the Central Electricity College, said now he does not have to bring his laptop to the coffee shop just to have free wifi.
"I always have to study online and I used to spend a lot of time searching for free wifi to do my homework. But now I can stay at my dormitory to surf the web."
Huan said he could not afford the monthly fee for using the 3G (third generation network), which provides internet access via mobile networks with the use of a 3G pocket modem.
"Although I am not the main target of the free wi-fi access, a low budget student like me can still benefit a lot," he said smiling.
Nguyen Bi Anh, owner of a major computer and mobilephone store in Hoi An, said since the city started providing free wifi access, his sales volume has increased dramatically.
"More and more people are buying laptops and smartphones to take full advantage of free wi-fi."
Anh said the best selling are budget smartphones that have wi-fi functions such as LG, Samsung and some Chinese brands.
"Smartphones are now not only for youngsters and tech gurus, but also for older users who like to surf the web for free to read online newspapers," he added.
Meanwhile, some printed newspaper dealers in the city are bemoaning their slumping sales.
"A number of our readers are now shifting to read online papers since the city started providing free wi-fi access. I know it is good for most, but bad for us," said Van Anh Tuan, a major newspapers distributor in the city.
Tuan is not the only one whose business has felt the negative impact of free wi-fi.
Tran Lam, who installs wired internet services, said he would have to quit his job since there will be ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) users.
"Now only large hotels and companies are using ADSL internet services as private users have switched to free wireless services," he added.
Tuan said however, he accepted the negative impact for the overall development of the city.
Vice Chairman of the Hoi An People's Committee Truong Van Bay said the city invested 25 billion dong ($1.2 million) in the project with 350 wi-fi hotspots.
"With such a project, Hoi An has fulfilled its dream to pull the world closer, or in other words, Hoi An would have a chance to spread its scent all over the globe."
Bay said free internet access will not only facilitate the local tourism industry, making Hoi An a friendly place to come, but also build a digital bridge between authorities and people.
Back from a boat trip on the Hoai River, Morales said it was the first time in his life he could capture pictures and clips in a running boat and send them to his friends at once.
Another UNESCO World Heritage tourism site of, Ha Long Bay, followed Hoi An in April in becoming the second city in Viet Nam to offer free wi-fi services. — VNS