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Technology

Konica Minolta makes public Wi-Fi safer for teleworkers in Japan

Service provides cheap alternative to VPNs and tethering

Konica Minolta's service will be available at 100,000 Wi-Fi hot spots across the country. (Photo by Yuichiro Takagi)

TOKYO -- Konica Minolta will provide a quick, low-cost way to secure communications for workers using public Wi-Fi as Japanese businesses scramble to shift to telecommuting amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The encrypted service, offered in partnership with KDDI unit Wire and Wireless, will be available at 100,000 Wi-Fi hot spots around the country at major train stations, eateries and elsewhere.

Corporate Japan has been notoriously slow to set up infrastructure for working outside the office. Konica Minolta had anticipated a rise in remote work during the Tokyo Summer Olympics, which have since been delayed to 2021.

The office equipment maker moved up the launch to serve businesses facing "the urgent need to implement telework," a spokesperson said.

The service costs 780 yen ($7.20) per month per user. The aim is to sign up 10,000 users in the fiscal year ending March 2021. A user with an ID set up on a device can automatically connect from a different Wi-Fi hot spot.

An Alps Alpine group member offers a similar service for Wi-Fi users. Alps System Integration has seen a spike in interest among client companies for its app that encrypts all communications. Inquiries have more than doubled since March from January and February. Signups for a 30-day free trial have increased, reports the company, which expects many users to switch to the paid subscription.

Securing information exchanges between remote employees and corporate offices conventionally requires spending heavily on authentication tools or virtual private networks. Setting up such authentication tools as one-time passwords often means investing millions of yen for 100 users, including server installation. Tethering, the sharing of a smartphone's data connection with another device, may incur exorbitant data charges.

Many Japanese enterprises have limited such tools and tethering to certain employees, such as salespeople. Among nonremote workers, 17.5% said their companies lack the infrastructure for working outside the office, a March survey by Persol Research and Consulting found.

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