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Japan's bullet trains to offer network-wide free Wi-Fi by next year

Rollout on most lines planned ahead of Tokyo Games' summer kickoff

Tourists to Japan have frequently complained about the lack of Wi-Fi on bullet trains.

TOKYO -- The Japan Railways group will provide free Wi-Fi service in nearly all shinkansen bullet trains and their stations by 2020, in time to accommodate overseas visitors attending that summer's Tokyo Olympics.

Almost all of the country's 108 bullet train stations will have Wi-Fi service by this spring. Wi-Fi will be installed in all but a few carriages as of the fiscal year starting in April 2020. The figures reflect the rollout plans at Japan Railways companies as compiled by the transport ministry. Subway operator Tokyo Metro will also install free Wi-Fi for tourists in all trains by that summer.

The push to make Wi-Fi more readily available aims to alleviate long-standing complaints among visitors to Japan about the lack of internet connectivity on trains.

Central Japan Railway, West Japan Railway and Kyushu Railway have offered free Wi-Fi on bullet trains since last year. At Central Japan Railway, about 30% of all cars have free Wi-Fi, according to the company. All three rail operators -- which provide the bulk of service west of Tokyo -- will offer free Wi-Fi on all their bullet trains by March 2020.

East Japan Railway, which serves the greater Tokyo area and the eastern half of the country, has been installing Wi-Fi in bullet trains since fiscal 2018. The project will mostly be finished in fiscal 2020, although installation could be delayed in parts of the Tohoku Shinkansen, which connects Tokyo with the city of Aomori on the northern tip of Japan's main island of Honshu.

For most of the free Wi-Fi, access is granted after registering an email address or logging on to a social network.

Historically private rail operators are also launching free Wi-Fi. Each of the 16 biggest companies in this sector offer either free or paid service at their stations, according to the Japan Private Railway Association. Wi-Fi is steadily becoming available inside trains as well.

Nearly 30% of foreign tourists to Japan have identified free public wireless service as a problem, according to a 2016 study by the Japan Tourism Agency. The issue ranked second to communications problems with staff. Close to 25% of respondents pointed to trains as the most common location where the lack of Wi-Fi was problematic.

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