Notes from Taiwan, Wireless Phone and Internet Ubiquity

One of the technological advantages that Taiwan has over the United States is wireless ubiquity, choice, and affordability.

The relatively small area of Taiwan allows for greater wireless signal saturation than in the United States, because it requires less infrastructural development on the part of wireless telecommunications companies. Also, there are more wireless companies here, which creates a more competitive marketplace than in the United States.

Wireless ubiquity of coverage, choice of carrier and hardware, and affordability of voice and data plans are all possible here, because there is more competition by carriers and technology manufacturers than in the United States. First, phones are not locked to carriers, but carriers may offer deals on phones if you sign an extended (usually 2 year) contract with them. Second, phone plans are less expensive here than in the States for comparable services, and carriers offer lower cost plans than carriers do in the States. This flexibility of contract plans allows many Taiwanese to have more than one phone number, because they will sign up with multiple carriers in order to get the latest phone at a good price. I believe this is part of what fuels the Taiwanese appetite for the iPhone 4. When you look around on the train or subway, it seems like every other person is playing with an iPhone 4. However, the Taiwanese are not limited to Apple technology lust. Technology integration into the daily lives of Taiwanese, especially younger people, seems to be to a higher degree than what I have seen in the States. All Taiwanese people are not super-hackers or techno-geeks, but they do appear to have a more integrated lifestyle with the latest technology trends. This augments or is augmented by the prevalence of technology made by a variety of companies in Taiwan and Asia in general. Considering wireless phone technology, there are more makers, especially Japanese manufacturers, in the market here than in the States. In fact, looking at the multitude of wireless stores–branch or independently owned–I have found the most amazing looking phones with numerous microcomputing and televisual technologies that just don’t show up in the States.

Wireless data access is also a big deal in Taiwan. Several of Y’s friends have tiny USB dongles for connecting to wireless data networks. Y’s friend Amy has the coolest thing that I have seen here for getting online: a tiny, battery powered wireless data router. It has its own sim card, it connects to the wireless data network, and it provides access to the Internet like any wireless router. I used this several times to check email and browse the web on my iPhone 3GS while we were hanging out with Amy.

Wired Internet, especially ADSL, is still the primary way folks here get online. You don’t see many wireless networks walking around Taipei and Jhongli, which makes me wonder if many wireless routers here are configured to not broadcast by default or if folks prefer to plug into their broadband modems. Y’s dad had a wired network until I switched him over to a wireless one so that Y and I could use our iPhones and iPads in the house.

Wireless and wired Internet connection costs are very inexpensive here compared to back in the States. Again, competition drives costs lower since there is great supply and demand remains unchanged.

If you like to get online for a cheap price with mobile freedom, Taiwan is the place to be.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.