DUBAI // A trip to the park was once about taking casual walks, playing cricket or spending time with the family. It could soon become more about checking e-mails, reading updates on Facebook and surfing the internet now that the largest park in the emirate is wi-fi friendly.
The sprawling 48-hectare Zabeel Park has been granted full wireless access from today in a deal between Dubai Municipality and Etisalat. It allows people with wi-fi enabled devices - such as smartphones, netbooks and portable gaming consoles - to enjoy connection around the clock. The service costs Dh5 for the first 30 minutes, in addition to the Dh5 park entry fee. "This is the first time in the UAE that we have outdoor internet access in a public facility and in such a large area," said Hussain Nasser Lootah, the director general of Dubai Municipality.
"The idea is to get more people and families with varied interests to parks. "It is our job to understand the requirement of the people and deliver it to them. We realised that this was a need for people who come to the park and spend long hours here." Access is available from the remotest corners of the park, which spreads through three separate plots to the north-east of the Dubai World Trade Centre, and is bounded by the Trade Centre, Al Quta'eyat and Zabeel roads.
Visitors can connect by making credit card payments using their mobile phones. Subscriptions cost Dh95 per month, which includes 12 hours of wi-fi internet access. "We have not introduced any special rates for these services and are only charging what we charge for regular use at all wi-fi hot-spot areas in Dubai," said Ghanim al Marri, the Etisalat deputy general manager for the Dubai region. The service can be accessed by existing Etisalat subscribers using their usual user name and password for no extra charge.
Officials said that the idea may soon be expanded to every park in Dubai and may also be considered for beaches. "This is just the beginning," Mr al Marri said. "We plan to evolve this idea and hopefully we can expand this to other areas." Visitors to Zabeel Park had mixed reactions. Sethu Madhavan, who walks on the park's 4.3km jogging track every evening, said escaping technology was part of its appeal.
"I come to the park to get away from e-mails and phone calls," the 51-year-old Indian said. "I don't think I will use this, especially if I have to pay for it. Still, I see that the world is connected all the time these days and some people find it important to have internet access." The park also provides a retreat for families in the Karama area. "We are regulars each morning to the park after we drop our children at school," said Dolly Singh, 32, an Indian. "We would go there irrespective of it having internet."