Ministry of Propaganda

Ministry of Propaganda - 01/Jun/2004: "Wireless LAN while travelling"

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Wireless LAN while travelling

I'm on my way back to the UK while writing this (although I will upload it when I'm back home). The plane doesn't offer WiFi (I doubt it will ever be offered on these short flights), so I thought I summarise my experiences with WiFi/Wireless LAN during this holiday:

My first attempt was at London Heathrow, Terminal 1. WiFi is available in the departure lounge (provider is BT Openzone), it is quite well advertised. Getting a signal was easy and quick, but then my problems started: I was able to register and even buy time online (which was quite expensive), but logging in proved difficult. The service relies on popup windows (which my browser blocks), but that isn't explained anywhere. I spent ages on the phone with the helpdesk, who didn't even know about Mozilla and kept telling me to close (and re-open) Internet Explorer). Anyway, when I tried logging in with IE it finally worked (OK, OK, may be I should have tried that earlier). By then it was almost time to run to the gate as boarding was about to begin. Probably the most expensive 5-10 minutes I've ever been online (I think it was something like £6). Not a good start...

My second attempt was at the Starbucks on Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg. As my sister only has modem dialup at home we decided to go to Starbucks as we expected we would be able to get WiFi there (she had quite a few downloads to complete for her new laptop). There weren't any signs (at least none we saw), but when I powered up my laptop it picked up a signal immediately. The provider was T-Mobile, charging EUR 8 for an hour. Not cheap, but as we were there we decided to give it a go. As far as I can remember it worked with Mozilla, buying time as well as logging in wasn't a problem. Connectivity and speed was excellent throughout. The hot chocolate (neither of us drinks coffee) was mediocre.

My third attempt was at Star Coffee also on Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg. Unfortunately this one was closed the day before, especially because they offer free WLan! Logging in was easy (at least for me, my sister initially had problems picking up a signal but no problems once she had picked it up). Connectivity was very good and the hot chocolate much better than at Starbucks. Definitely my pick for this trip.

My fourth (and last attempt) was at Frankfurt Airport. My flight was leaving from Terminal 2, but when I asked at the information desk I was told I had to take the Skyline Train to Terminal 1. As I had enough time left I gave it a go. When I approached the area it wasn't advertised anywhere, so I had to ask to make sure (it's in a fairly dimly lit area/floor between the Skyline station and the main hall). Picking up a signal was possible, but signal strength varied to say the least. Logging on was difficult again: Using Mozilla I was only redirected to the Frankfurt Airport website, but no possibility to register/log in. Having learned from the experience in London Heathrow I tried it with Internet Explorer. This worked, after lots of windows popping up and having to go through various steps (The provider was T-Mobile again, again asking EUR 8 for an hour). When I had finally managed to log in I was disturbed by some drunk person who was trying to find a drinking buddy (no, thanks) and when he realised that I was online asked me if I could go to some website for him (no, **** ***, I'm busy). Connectivity wasn't great, a lot of pages didn't load fast at all. And after about 45 minutes I lost my connection and wasn't able to log in again (even though it told me I was logged in). After a while I gave up and took the Skyline train back to the other terminal. Not a good result for Frankfurt Airport either.

My conclusions?

Both airports still have lot to do: Both should make the login process much easier, in particular completing it in the same browser window instead of opening new windows. In Heathrow I would prefer it to be closer to the gates, not only in the departure lounge. Then I could use it until just before boarding and wouldn't have to worry about getting to the gate on time. In Frankfurt, well, first of all make it available in Terminal 2. Preferably after the passport & security controls.

The two coffee places were much better: I think Starbucks in Heidelberg is in for some competition from Star Coffee in Hauptstrasse, they are only about 100 metres apart. Starbucks only advantage are longer opening hours in the evening, but that's about it.

Overall I think this still has to be made much easier before it will catch on to broader usage. I believe to be fairly experienced with WiFi, but I had various problems. How will users with less experience fare? Oh, and don't get me started about the cost, £5+ for an hour is way too much.

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