SHANGHAI will upgrade its Wi-Fi network with more hot spots and higher security levels as it seeks to establish itself as a "wireless city" under the city's 12th Five-Year (2011-2015) Plan.
By 2013, Shanghai will have more than 22,000 Wi-Fi hot spots, covering all major public areas, according to the Shanghai Radio Administration Bureau.
Wi-Fi networks allow people to access the Internet through mobile devices like mobile phones, tablet computers and laptops. Wi-Fi is faster than current 2G and 3G networks, which provide access to films and 3D games via handsets.
"Shanghai will establish a full-range network for a wireless city, with an upgraded Wi-Fi network, besides 2G and 3G and coming 4G networks," said Sheng Feng, a bureau official.
Various carriers, including China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, have different strategies on Wi-Fi networks, based on their own market positions and technology adaptations, industry officials said.
China Mobile, the world's biggest mobile carrier with 700 million subscribers, aims to use Wi-Fi network construction to improve the "user experience" before it upgrades to a 4G network in 2014.
Compared with smaller rivals China Unicom and China Unicom, China Mobile's 3G technology TD-SCDMA (time division-synchronous code division multiple access) is less advanced.
"China Mobile sees rising competition from both China Unicom and China Telecom," said Navin Killa, a Morgan Stanley analyst.
To fight back, China Mobile is testing 4G networks in major cities, including Shanghai, Hangzhou and Beijing. But TD-LTE, as China Mobile's 4G network is known, is a "2014 event," according to Morgan Stanley.
There are now around 6,000 China Mobile hot spots citywide serving up to 20 million mobile phone users. From 2012 to 2014, China Mobile will build 90,000 access points, according to Mao Weiliang, deputy general manager for data services of China Mobile's Shanghai branch.
Each wireless hot spot required four to five access points on average. It means Shanghai Mobile will build at least an additional 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots, triple the current number.
China Mobile's hot spots will cover sites such as high schools, universities, hospitals, transportation hubs, industrial parks, exhibition centers, office buildings, shopping malls and upmarket hotels, according to the carrier.
China Unicom's Shanghai branch has also invested heavily in Wi-Fi network construction. Shanghai Unicom plans to establish up to an additional 7,000 Wi-Fi hot spots at airports, railway stations, universities, hotels and commercial buildings. That's up from 2,000 at present, according to Liu Xiansong, a Shanghai Unicom's marketing official.
China Unicom uses 3G network WCDMA (wideband code division multiple access) technology, which is supported by most handsets, including iPhone and Samsung models.
But the carrier also needs Wi-Fi to ease the great pressure of data consumption on its 3G network, industry insiders said.
By the end of June, Shanghai Unicom had 1.18 million 3G handset users, who used 207 megabytes of bandwidth on average each month.
A monthly Internet data consumption of more than 200 megabytes is generally considered as the start of a rapid-growth period for mobile Internet development, according to international standards and overseas market experience, analysts said.
The monthly data consumption of Chinese mobile phones jumped 50 percent year-on-year in the past few months, Xi Guohua, China Mobile's chairman, said during an industry conference last month.
Another smaller player, China Telecom, plans to integrate its fixed-line and mobile businesses through Wi-Fi.
As the country's No. 3 mobile carrier, China Telecom is the world's biggest fixed-line phone and broadband operator.