On a recent user research trip to a village in Huarou County, outside of Beijing (home of the beautiful Huairou geological formation), several of us piled into a minibus (complete with in-car navigation system that probably needs to be updated more than any other map on earth) and, while the beautiful scenery passed, we promptly proceeded to put our heads down into our devices and map out the technological terrain beyond the safety of the 6th ring road.

We headed east, beyond Shunyi.  One team member brought out a GPS-equipped phone, which for some reason failed to get signal.  Another team member pulled out a CE GPRS/WiFi phone and saw he could pinpoint our location using the WiFi hotspots he found during our drive.  The software was using his resulting IP addresses to approximate the location.  We were now 30 minutes outside of the 6th ring and he was still picking up open WiFi spots.  Incredulous, another team member threw open a laptop and found some open networks that he couldn't latch onto until the van slowed down.

We looked around wildly: "Who's hotspots are these?"  An outlet selling contruction material was on the right.  A beautiful valley to the left.  Given the range of common WiFi APs, the government must have lined up hundreds upon hundreds, and we were at a loss for who the intended audience is.

When we finally reached the village, there was no WiFi signal and only a couple of shops along one side of the road.  The last shop, on the right, was being remodeled and stood out with a large size ten times as tall as any of the others: "China Mobile".

-neema