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Public WiFi: Immature Technology Run By Amateurs

As I reported a couple days ago, I officially became iPass-enabled. I did have an issue with the T-Mobile Hotspot I was using in SFO on Friday night and I reported it to our iPass Pilot Team. The response I got back was worth sharing.

WiFi in public places appears to be largely an immature technology, often informally deployed and on occasion run by amateurs.

We heard last week of a hotspot in a café location, where the hotspot operator has pulled the plug and terminated the contract. It appears the café owner did not want people sitting around surfing the internet for hours on end. He wanted people to come in, buy a coffee and sandwich, eat-up and go. That was why the piped music level was also so high… to prevent people from holding a conversation comfortably, and hence they would drink/eat and get out…

The WiFi? … … very often switched-off by the café owner at lunchtime and again at the end of the day as … "the internet is faster when sending email to head office". These practices were common in 70 stores. Disable WiFi at lunchtime. Disable when posting the day's accounting records … Oh, and one time I went to test at such a place… Internet was unplugged to use the AC power plug for a toaster… Toasting sandwiches was the café's priority.

Yes, they did ask me for some log files to troubleshoot the problem after the above.

Of course, it's probably a bit sensationalist to say that all public WiFi is immature technology is run by amateurs. I think with free WiFi, there is a higher risk that it is deployed and/or run by amatuers. It's actually fairly simple to deploy a free WiFi hotspot in a typical coffee shop. It's fairly cheap and easy to install WiFi in an establishment like a restaurant or coffee shop, particularly if you make it free. This means it could very easily be installed by amateurs.

Technical issues aside, the "real" amateurs are those who don't understand that free Wifi, when properly deployed, should actually benefit your establishment. You can mitigate bandwidth issues by deploying QoS. The WRT54GS has QoS built in. I'd recommend DD-WRT instead of the stock Linksys firmware, though.

The WiFi you pay for is hopefully better, though it's not always the case. The paid hotspot I used in Chicago O'Hare was not that good. I couldn't maintain a reliable connection at all and I finally had to give up. At least with the T-Mobile Hotspot in SFO, I was only getting occasionally knocked off and at least somewhat consistent bandwidth.


C-List #Cybersecurity Celebrity, Podcaster, #noagenda Producer, Frequenter of shiny metal tubes, Expressor of personal opinions, and of course, a coffee achiever.