Implementing Free Wi-Fi in Public Parks: An Empirical Study in Qatar

Implementing Free Wi-Fi in Public Parks: An Empirical Study in Qatar

Shafi Al-Shafi (Brunel University, UK) and Vishanth Weerakkody (Brunel University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-162-1.ch012
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This article examines the adoption of free wireless Internet parks (iPark) by Qatari citizens as a means of accessing electronic services from public parks. The Qatari government has launched the free wireless Internet parks concept under their national electronic government (e-government) initiative with a view to providing free Internet access for all citizens whilst enjoying the outdoors. By offering free wireless internet access, the Qatari government hopes to increase the accessibility of e-government services and encourage their citizens to actively participate in the global information society with a view to bridging the digital divide. The adoption and diffusion of iPark services will depend on user acceptance and the availability of wireless technology. This article examines an extended technology acceptance model (TAM) that proposes individual differences and technology complexity in order to determine perceived usefulness and perceived ease of the iPark initiative by using a survey-based study. The article provides a discussion on the key findings, research implications, limitations, and future directions for the iPark initiative in Qatar.
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The Qatari free-wireless- internet-park (iPark) concept was launched in 2007 under the banner of e-government in order to make public services more accessible to citizens. The iPark initiative is implemented in a number of public parks and provides free connection to the citizens’ Internet ready devices, such as laptops and Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) at any time of the day. The first such initiative was launched in the city of Doha in Qatar and it is the first of its kind in the Western Asia region. The primary goal of this initiative is to increase internet usage by establishing “hot spots” in public parks (IctQATAR, 2007). There are currently three designated wireless internet hotspots throughout selected public parks in the city (ibid). This article explores citizens’ acceptance of the iPark concept as part of the e-government initiative in Qatar.

The Qatari E-government initiative was launched in 2000 and in global terms the UN E-government readiness report (2008) ranked Qatar’s e-government project as number 53 worldwide. As in many countries, the national e-government focus for Qatar is to achieve the highest performance in executing governmental transactions electronically, through streamlined business processes and integrated information technology solutions (IctQATAR, 2007). Moreover, the Qatari government hopes that free internet access offered through the iPark concept will encourage more citizens to use e-government services and help bridge the digital divide.

The Internet, whilst being the primary mode of access to e-government services, has not been adapted globally at the same time or rate; some countries are considered as leaders (such as the US, UK and Singapore) and others simply follow (i.e. the Arabian Gulf region) (Gupta and Gupta, 2005). More recently, wireless technologies have become a useful means of internet connectivity and access to electronic services (e-services). Wi-Fi for ‘Wireless Fidelity’ is a set of standards for wireless local area networks (WLAN) and provides wireless access to the Internet (Lehr and McKnight, 2003). Hotspots providing such access include Wi-Fi cafes where services may be free to customers. In fact, a hotspot need not be limited to a confined location; as illustrated in this article, public parks can be used to offer free wireless internet access to citizens.

In particular, Wi-Fi has opened up new opportunities for electronic commerce (e-commerce) and e-government by allowing citizens to build connectivity 24 hours a day, seven days a week (24/7). Moreover, it helps to increase accessibility of services and to expand social, government and business networks. The European Commission estimated the number of Wi-Fi users to be around 125 million worldwide in the year 2006, and that there will be more than 500 million Wi-Fi users worldwide by 2009 (JiWire, 2006). However, wireless security remains the most important factor that challenges wireless internet hot spots. As Wi-Fi grows the security threat also increases rapidly and therefore the need to protect information becomes imperative (Peikari and Fogie, 2003). The security risk remains largely from hackers, who are individuals that access the system without any authorization for personal gain.

Given the above context, the rationale for this research is to gain a better understanding of the free wireless internet park “iPark” initiative in Qatar. Using a pilot survey questionnaire, this study aims to explore the intention of citizens to use iPark services in Qatar. This is achieved by examining their perceptions of ‘ease of use’ and ‘usefulness’ in relation to internet access in the iPark. To pursue this line of inquiry, this research uses the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM). TAM theorizes that an individual’s behavioural intention to use a technology is determined by two factors: perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use (Gardner and Amoroso, 2004).

The article is structured as follows. In the next section the national Qatari e-government background is presented. Then a literature perspective of e-government is offered, followed by an outline of the theoretical model used for the research. Next, the empirical background to the research is presented. This is followed by the methodology used for the research and a presentation of the empirical results. Finally, the article concludes by analysing the empirical results, discussing the research implications and identifying areas for future research.

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