A tech tourist's guide to Beijing

Welcome to Beijing!

Commercial and free VPN software is widely available. OpenVPN works for both Linux and Windows, although the Linux version is easier to configure. StrongVPN offers VPN service for $US15 per month, although there are less expensive VPN solutions available. Note that most proxy and VPN software may slow Internet access in Beijing considerably, so it may work well for reading blocked sites, though not for watching video.

Wi-Fi hotspots and "Wireless Beijing": One area where Beijing outpaces many rival cities -- including in the U.S. -- is in the wide availability of free Wi-Fi hotspots. Many Starbucks Coffee locations, along with cafes and restaurants including The Bookworm, Sequoia Cafe and outlets of Pacific Coffee, a Hong Kong-based chain, offer Wi-Fi.

Operated by Chinacomm, "Wireless Beijing" is designed to offer free connectivity to visitors during the Olympic Games, later becoming a fee-based mobile Internet service. Coverage areas during the Olympics include Beijing's Central Business District (CBD, one of the Beijing municipal government's favorite acronyms), the Financial Street area of western Beijing, and Zhongguancun, the city's hi-tech area. Excluded is the Olympic Park -- Wireless Beijing wasn't given access to the park's light poles to hang transmitters and repeaters due to security concerns.

Results in using Wireless Beijing have been decidedly mixed. Staff from Azalea Networks, which is providing most of the hardware for the project, said that the signal would be most easily detected in Zhongguancun and Financial Street.

However, in Beijing's Chaoyang District in the CBD, IDG News Service only succeeded in accessing the service once in seven different spots, using a 2G Apple iPhone. Users must first register via the login page, although reading this from a mobile device is difficult. Efforts to access the site, to create an account before going mobile, from fixed line connections both in Beijing and outside the city failed.

Tech shopping: While Beijing isn't Tokyo for goods unavailable in other markets, it can offer good prices on parts especially. So many technology products are made in China, that they are sold within the country cheaply and reliably.

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Steven Schwankert

IDG News Service
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