Free WiFi @ Taipei Airport

It’s been a few years since I was last in Taiwan. At the time, I remember it was quite the hassle trying to get set up with a prepaid SIM card for my phone, so much so that I ended up not getting a SIM at all. There was this whole confusion about selling prepaid phone service to foreigners and it just ended up being one big headache, possibly rivaling the frustrating experience I had with Telstra in Australia. In any case, I’m heading back to Taipei for Computex this year and I want to be reasonably connected.

While I’ve been told that it has become easier for visitors to get set up with a prepaid SIM, I’m not as sure I’d like to go through a similar kind of headache again. I’ve still got some balance left on my Truphone account that I could use in an emergency for talk or text, but wireless data is my primary concern. Given this, I’ve unearthed three possible courses of action for using Wi-Fi in Taipei City.

Taipei Free Public Wi-Fi Access

The network was in its very early stages the last time I was in Taiwan, but it looks like the service is not only up and running now, but it’s also been opened up to foreign visitors. Basically, there is a network of Wi-Fi access points set up in various locations by the Taipei City Government. After you register for an account, you can log into any of these access points and gain access to the Internet for free. I do like free.

Of course, nothing in this world is truly free. Based on what I’ve heard from some other folks, the free city Wi-Fi can be spotty at best and, even when you do get connected, the speeds can be quite atrocious at about 512 kbps. Especially since Taiwan is supposed to be such a hotbed for technology and seeing how we’ve come to measure our Internet speeds in megabits per second (Mbps) and not kilobits per second (kbps), this could prove to be a rather frustrating experience too. But hey, it wouldn’t cost me a dime.

CHT Wi-Fi HiNet Prepaid Card

Alternatively, another set of Wi-Fi access points have been set up by Chunghwa Telecom, one of the larger telecommunications companies in the country. The service effectively works the same way as the Taipei Free Public Wi-Fi infrastructure, except you pay to use these access points. The CHT Wi-Fi network, which is also known as HiNet, provides coverage in most parts of the city, but you’d naturally lose a connection if you’re between access points.

The 7-day prepaid pass is only NT$299, which works out to about $11 Canadian or about $1.50 per day. The prepaid cards can be purchased online for a slight discount or I can pick them up from any number of convenience stores like Family Mart or Hi-Life. And those convenience stores are just about everywhere.

iVideo Pocket WiFi Rental

The biggest obstacle to using these pre-installed Wi-Fi networks is that they aren’t everywhere. There are going to be times when I am outside of the range of an available access point. It could also be a bit of pain having to log into the service now and again. To this end, I’m also thinking about a mobile hotspot rental from a company called iVideo. They use the Chunghwa Telecom 3.75G network, which should provide great coverage in Taipei City.

This is the same strategy I used for my multi-country Europe trip last year when I rented a Tep Wireless mobile hotspot. Instead of having the hotspot delivered to my Canadian home, however, iVideo allows for pickup and dropoff of the package at pre-determined convenience stores. Go figure. And it’s also a lot cheaper than Tep Wireless, working out to about NT$500 (C$18) for ten days of service, including the hotspot rental itself.

My apprehension is that I can’t seem to find much in terms of any online reviews of the iVideo pocket WiFi rental and their website doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence either. It should be fine, though, and this should provide me with the best coverage.

Where Are the Speed Tests?

I’m still undecided about how I should go about doing this. If I were to get a prepaid SIM, I would first need to unlock my phone and confirm that the wireless bands are compatible. Since I’d be swapping SIMs, I’d also lose access to my Canadian number, which would mean I’d also lose WhatsApp.

Going with HiNet might be the most convenient — especially if the free WiFi is as horrible as people say — but it could also be a little cumbersome. And then there’s the pocket WiFi rental option with a company that may or may not be all that respectable. Strangely, I’m having a hard time finding any speedtest information about HiNet and CHT 3.75G too, which would also affect my decision.

What would you do in my situation? Connectivity at the hotel won’t be a problem, as there is complimentary Wi-Fi there, but staying connected on the go would be much appreciated.