No broadband in Japan hotels, a glimpse of the future for the US?

by Todd Ogasawara


I stayed at three hotels in three cities in Japan last week.
One of the common denominators at all three was the lack of wired (Ethernet)
or wireless (WiFi) broadband service in the hotel rooms.
This seemed normal to me the last time I visited Japan 10 years ago in 1995.
But, it seemed a bit odd to me in 2005.
I asked two friends living in Japan about this apparent lack of connectivity
for the traveler and they independently gave similar responses:
Native travelers probably do not need to plug-in to Ethernet or WiFi
because of the widespread availability of broadband mobile phone service

I checked the

DoCoMo high speed information web page

and found that their CDMA EVDO service tops out at 384Kbps
While this is slower than 10BaseT or 802.11b,
it is still plenty fast and probably more than sufficient for checking email,
reading news, and sending photos.
If I had a phone that could get me between ISDN or greater speeds while on
travel all over the US, I might not bother to plug into a jack or search
for WiFi either.

By the way, this doesn't mean that hotels in Japan are completely
ignoring wired broadband.
I found a note in my
Tokyo Dome Hotel
room saying that broadband wiring will be completed in that building by
May 2005.
And, are they talking about T1 (1.5Mbps) or 10BaseT (10Mbps) speeds?
Uh uh...
The Tokyo Dome Hotel is installing
which has a potential blazing 52Mbps throughput.

In case you are wondering,
the photo of the
Todaiji Temple in the Nara Deer Park, Japan
has nothing to do with broadband.
I just like the photo I took. :-)

Do you think the CDMA-EVDO GSM-GPRS mish mash of networks in the US will ever be widely enough available to use your phone for data whether on the move or in a hotel room?


2005-04-01 08:29:31
Hotspots in Japan
When my wife and I traveled to Japan for New Years, we saw a similar situation. In Tokyo, our hotel did have broadband, but the hotel in Kyoto offered no such service. While we rented a cell phone, it was a rather old and simple one, so we didn't really have the ability to use it for broadband.

Luckily, my wife found that the hotel isn't the only place you can look to for broadband. :) Kyoto station actually has a free broadband service that you sign up for at the station. (Just go to the information desk for information.) It gives you access to wi-fi hotspots around Kyoto, one of which happened to be in the lobby of our hotel. It was a real lifesaver, so I thought I'd point it out for anyone else trying to get access to broadband in Japan.

It's amazing though, while the US is still trying to get people wired, Japan has moved on - way beyond. They've got cheap VoIP and ultra-fast DSL that are available just about everywhere now. (They even sell package deals.) Everyone has a cell, and their cells do all sorts of cool things, like let you put cash into it and use it for payment. And IM/e-mail via cell is a part of life for many Japanese now, even my wife's parents. It's almost scary how fast their fingers move when they IM on the cell! It's really a shame to think of how far the US is "behind" on all this.

The only thing we've got over them is the iTunes Music Store, which is a real bummer because I'd shamelessly throw money at the Japanese iTunes music store. ;-)

2005-04-03 16:48:45
Toyoko Inn
I agree that Wifi can be pretty hard to find in Japan, but there is a good, cheap business hotel chain that Internet conenction through your LAN cable. Check out Toyoko Inn (their website is in English too). They have hotels in most cities.

Shinkansen stations are starting to offer Wifi now, so you can always use your laptop there if your train is delayed - as if that ever happens in Japan!

2005-04-22 15:23:30
Japan and US wireless broadband

So, just a correction - NTT DoCoMo do not use CDMA EVDO network technology - they use a system called FOMA. DoCoMo's competitor AU (KDDI) operates an EVDO network which is faster than FOMA. And then just to finish the 3G story up, Vodafone in Japan operate a system called WCDMA which is the same as what is used throughout the rest of the world for 3G. That too peaks around 384kbps. On top of that, there has been for a long time 256kbps/128kbps/64kbps data services provided over PHS accessible via USB dongles, PC or Compact Flash cards.

Japanese hotel broadband access is sporadic. I've had full broadband in the most expensive hotels - like the Prince Hotel in Tokyo and also in the cheapest city hotel out in the boonies. For ubiquity though a wireless card or phone connection is essential. Just watch the pricing.

As for the US: "Do you think the CDMA-EVDO GSM-GPRS mish mash of networks in the US will ever be widely enough available to use your phone for data whether on the move or in a hotel room?"

Definite maybe. Actually, the competition will be between EV-DO from Verizon and Sprint and EDGE/WCDMA from Cingular (and their hope to get High-speed Downlink Packet Access HSDPA out too which is faster than EVDO). All three are apparently planning to have nationwide access but the business case is tough to have ubiquitous coverage everywhere. The problems are two fold:

  • 1) America loves low, flat-rate pricing
    2) Hotels are giving broadband away for free

  • With these price constraints, justifying a nationwide wide area high-speed data network is difficult if you're just banking on business travellers to foot the bill. You have to hope that there are more applications that people will pay for to justify it. Problem is... there aren't. Sorry folks.

    So what we'll see is fairly big hotspots of 3G 384k to 2Mbps high-speed coverage within a sea of pretty ubiquitous ~100k availability.

    2005-04-25 01:27:14
    Japan and US wireless broadband
    Hey, MediaGuru: Thank you for the fact correction and additional info. Much appreciate it!...todd