Tourist destinations the latest places to join Egypt’s hot-spot roll-out

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The tourist destinations of Sharm el-Sheikh and Luxor are the latest cities to get on board Egypt’s fast-moving roll-out of Wi-Fi hot-spots. Although prices in these places will be expensive, they are considerably cheaper than the current alternatives in local tourist hotels.

Under a USAID-sponsored project, “While in Egypt Stay Connected,” tourist destinations in Sharm el-Sheikh and Luxor are serving as pilot cities for Wi-Fi deployments.  In each city, sixteen Wi-Fi access points swathe tourist areas. Visitors purchase prepaid Internet access cards for about US$6.74 an hour. 

Although hotels in Cairo have been offering Wi-Fi, there has until this point been little in the other two tourist destinations. Cairo’s Marriott with its relaxing courtyard garden offers a 24 hour access card that lasts three months for US$30 and it is always full of people using laptops. What they might lose one way, they gain by users paying for their premium price drinks.

In Luxor, Wi-Fi covers a 5 km stretch of the Nile Corniche, connecting users in outdoor cafes and on Nile cruise ships at 256K.   Connectivity even extends into Luxor and Karnak temples, allowing the novelty of instant messaging while seated in a 4000-year-old monument.  Also benefiting from Wi-Fi coverage, connected users can logon from pedestrian areas in Sharm el-Sheikh’s Naama Bay, or even a chaise longue along a beach promenade.

Before this roll-out, there were only a very small number of hot-spots. The cost of rolling out the hot-spots has been paid for by different equipment vendors: SR Telecom in Luxor and Redline and Colubris in Sharm el-Sheikh. The Luxor hot-spots are run by Telecom Egypt’s ISP TE Data and the Sharm el-Sheik operation by local ISP Egynet. Both ISPs paid the equipment installation costs.

There is no revenue split with site owners because the networks are outdoors and the ISPs have done all the aerial site leases themselves. However, they are selling the pre-paid scratch cards to vendors at a small discount.

Connected tourists, who travel with laptops or other Wi-Fi devices, have greater income and are bigger spenders when on holiday. According to research carried out by the project, 15% of UK tourists take a laptop and 30% of Germans.

 This USAID project aims to boost tourism revenues by establishing Egypt as a “connected’ destination, with Wi-Fi and 3G Internet attracting visitors who prefer to visit a country with fast and easy data access. It is part of a wider initiative to persuade local hotel owners to accept credit cards and put in place online booking procedures.

Hot-spots in these destinations will add to Egypt’s already burgeoning hot-spot culture. In Cairo there are a great deal of places offering free access including coffee shops, Macdonalds and a local chain called Cilantro. In each of these places, you will see a mix of tourists, expats and locals working away on their laptops.

Interestingly, these include people using Skype with headsets as PC to PC calls are legal in Egypt. One local visitor reported that the bandwidth was of sufficiently high quality that he was able to use the SIP client on his Nokia N80 to call home for virtually nothing.

Further south, with the exception of South Africa, public hot-spots are still a relatively exotic offering. However, both pay-for and free hot-spots in hotels can be found increasingly widely in a range of countries. Perhaps public hot-spots will become the next wave of growth in the coming year.