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Writer and blogger Ben Hammersley is in London at the most expensive hotspot in the world: London hotels have been cited in the past for egregious Wi-Fi pricing and ridiculous terms. One required special cards and software, and soured a number of travel writers for years on Wi-FI’s potential. The hotel charges a “mere” £15 a day for guests to have Internet access, but conference room users—Ben is there for the Guardian Changing Media Summit—pay £10 per 30 minutes. Now Ben exaggerates that it’s £480 for 24 hours, because you’d only pay while using it. But at, say, a ten hour day for £200, almost any alternative is cheaper. [link via BoingBoing]
Plenty of Americans, myself included, would be mortified to step foot in a McDonald’s while overseas: But it appears that I’m not the only one to do so for the sake of free (or at least free with purchase) Wi-Fi. Actually, I donít know for sure if this writer is American. But after being shocked at the high price of Wi-Fi access in his hotel in Paris, he stumbled on a McDonald’s offering free Wi-Fi.
His story sounds eerily familiar to my recent experiences in Dublin. The hotel I stayed in charged about Ä20 per day for Wi-Fi access. I find that hard to stomach. After a reader alerted me to free Wi-Fi in McDonald’s cafes in Dublin and once I moved here, I tried one out because I was having trouble getting online elsewhere. The funny thing about the McDonald’s cafe on Grafton Street is that it appeared to me that the Wi-Fi access was specifically available only in the cafe, which fronts a regular McDonald’s restaurant. But even though I moved around a bit, I couldn’t find a spot with a decent enough signal to actually use the network. It makes me think that the AP is hung in the restaurant, where they discourage you from using the network.
I’ve tested the extremes that I’m willing to endure for free Wi-Fi: I had a rough couple of days earlier this week trying to get online while I wait for DSL to be turned on in my office. I’ve got some sort of glitch going on with my laptop where I get booted off a hotspot—any hotspot—within a few minutes of getting access. So I decided to hunt around for free hotspots in hopes that if I didn’t have to log on, I might not have the problem.
I started out at the Chester Beatty Library, which was a godsend to me while I was visiting Dublin in November. But alas, the network is no longer open and totally free. Visitors can get a password that enables 30 minutes of access with a purchase at the cafe or gift shop. Because I’d have to sign on, this network wouldn’t suit my purposes for my experiment.
During one of my brief windows of access earlier in the day, I’d managed to download the list of hotspots that Eircom, the local phone company, has offered from a slew of payphones in Dublin. I think the access is free, so I set out in search of one.
Now, I’d call myself a very thrifty person (the word FREE resonates loudly for me), but there’s only so far I’ll go for free Wi-Fi access. Unless I’m missing something obvious, I can’t see how offering free or even fee-based access from a payphone is remotely useful to the vast majority of potential customers. Wi-Fi-enabled PDA users are the only customers I can see who would be interested, and their numbers are small enough that I can’t imagine Eircom would go to the effort of building hotspots just for them.
I strolled up and down Grafton Street, the main pedestrian thoroughfare in the city center, where apparently payphones at the top and bottom of the street are equipped with access. My first problem was that I didn’t notice any stickers or signs on any of the payphones I saw indicating that they were equipped with Wi-Fi. On a side note, it’s amazing how many payphones are in Dublin, given that cell phone penetration in Ireland is one of the highest in Europe.
But even if I did see a sign indicating Wi-Fi was available from a payphone, what then? I wouldn’t stand for long in the payphone, holding my laptop with one hand, trying to type with the other. In case Eircom missed this bulletin, Dublin is chilly and rainy most of the time so I wasn’t too keen on finding a wall to sit on where I could hang out with my laptop for any length of time. I also wasn’t terribly interested in sitting on the ground against a shop with the homeless folks (not that there are many here). I wouldn’t quite fit in with that crowd if I had a laptop on my lap.
I figured I’d keep looking and maybe I’d find one of Eircom’s payphones that happened to be either near a cafe or maybe near a park where it might be easy to sit on a bench or something. Supposedly one of the payphones is on Grafton just near St. Stephen’s Green, a big park in Dublin, but the nearest bench was a ways into the park and I doubted the coverage would reach. Anyway, the bench was wet and I didn’t care to sit on it.
I walked into Rathmines, a neighborhood on the south side of Dublin, where a couple of Eircom payphones are equipped. One is near the public pool, so I thought maybe there’d be a parking lot or a park nearby where I could sit. At some point, I’ll post a photo here of the area around the phone because I found it quite amusing when I reached it late on a long day of frustrating failure to get online. It’s really just a typical overgrown trash-strewn parking lot that you might find in practically any city on earth. Even in my most desperate search for Internet access, I couldn’t bring myself to hang out in this car park and fire up my laptop.
So instead, I ultimately ended up popping into a nearby Internet cafe and plugging in with an Ethernet cable directly. No problems there, but as a journalist who has been covering Wi-Fi for years, I felt a bit sinful for using a landline connection.
I’m definitely not alone in visiting a new city and struggling to find the local hotspots (see the Prague Unwired post): After a visit to Dublin back in November, before I moved here, I had a hard time finding hotspots and I posted an item about it. In response, a handful of kind Dubliners quickly emailed to point out local hotspots, some of which I hadn’t found on the usual online listings. Unfortunately, old-fashioned word of mouth still seems to be the best way to find out about hotspots.