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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2009-10-14 14:57
Subject: [tech] Wireless Internet, & the inubiquities thereof
Security: Public
Tags:tech, travel
Back when I was in the consulting business, we used to talk about the "Internet dialtone". The analog is obvious enough — voice dialtone is a worldwide standard that's almost universally available, given the combination of wireline, wireless and satellite telephones. So long as you're willing and able to pay your monthly access fees and connection charges, you're in the voxisphere.

Here in the United States, Internet dialtone has arrived in bits and pieces via wireless Internet connectivity. The access and connection charge model is not universalized as with voice — if you start your day in a hotel, head to an airport, fly to second airport and end your day in a second hotel, you'll encounter four separate access protocols, each with their own rating schema. Yet, at least within the framework of business travel, wireless is nearly universal.

Except at the Torrance Marriott South Bay. This is the first time in several years that I've been in a business-oriented environment where there simply wasn't wireless access. This Marriott provides in-room Ethernet access for $13 per day. It's very slow — I'm almost certain this entire 800-bed hotel is running over a single T1 — and it tethered me to the desk in my room. And it drove me nuts.

Likewise LAX. Here the wireless is for-fee, T-Mobile for about $9 per day. Difficult to log on to, and running at about 56K modem speeds. Much like the Torrance Marriott, I think they're running the entire guest network over a single T1. (To add insult to injury, here in the United Airlines terminal all the wall outlets have been disabled. It's pretty much a big, hearty "FUCK YOU" to business travelers from United and LAX.)

What I can't figure out is whether I'm resenting a curbing of privilege, or whether I should reasonably expect wireless Internet access wherever I go. Note I am not complaining about pricing — I can and do, but that's a rant topic for another time — just about whether wireless Internet access has become such a standard part of life in my slice of America that its absence is notable and even detrimental.

Certainly I've noticed the absence. Certainly I feel its detriment. Certainly I'm boggled that a business-class hotel that's grossing close to $100,000 per night in room charges can't seem to manage in-room wireless connectivity, fee or no fee. And that one of the largest airports in the world can't manage bandwidth to 1999 standards.

Do you consider wireless access to be like dialtone, a universally expected service? Or am I so wrapped in my high tech business travel cocoon that I've lost sight of reality?
Post A Comment | 17 Comments | | Link






Laura Anne Gilman
User: suricattus
Date: 2009-10-14 22:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
LAX sux. That's pretty much universally agreed-on.

I don't know that I expect wireless everywhere (one of the reasons I got a smartphone was to fill in those gaps) but I certainly expect it to be a competently-provided service in certain areas (libraries, airports, hotels). Ironically, it seems that the higher-end hotels will charge (assuming an expense account, I suppose) while less expensive hotels offer it free, as an enticement.

That said, it seems as though North America is doing better in terms of providing public-space wifi than Europe, which surprised me.
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Brent Kellmer
User: skaldic
Date: 2009-10-14 22:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I tend to agree with you, but then I live in Seattle and work in the industry myself, so it's hard for me to know what it's really like in some town in West Virginia. But, LAX -- that's ludicrous, and any major business oriented hotel in LA County doing that is just stupid and short-sighted.
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bondo_ba
User: bondo_ba
Date: 2009-10-14 22:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You're not being unreasonable. I live in Argentina (pretty far from any techno-mecca) and I expect wireless internet access anywhere I go, whether it be a bar or an airport. And if it isn't free, then I probably won't be coming back (of course, I'll probably go back to some places, like airports, but that isn't by choice).
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Stephanie C. Leary
User: sleary
Date: 2009-10-14 22:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The Finnish government agrees with you.
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Bob
User: yourbob
Date: 2009-10-14 23:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
If Motel 6 can offer reasonable wireless in all locations for about $3 a night, I think any higher charging hotel should be able to at least offer it.

[there are, of course, some Motel 6 locations that don't offer it in every room]
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jtdiii
User: jtdiii
Date: 2009-10-14 23:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Someone else already mentioned Motel 6 and many motels of that price range just throw it in for free or close to it.

Personally I travel with a cellular broadband card after a nasty sniffing incident where my card number was lifted while signing up for the wireless internet in the airport. Thankfully the $7,000 in charges while I was in the air were detected and the card was frozen, but then I had the fun of needing a new card while traveling.
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Kate: Unisphere
User: kateyule
Date: 2009-10-15 00:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Unisphere
I don't expect wireless access to be as universal as all that. At LAX, yes.

I don't expect it at major hotels--been disappointed too many times even when they claim they have it--but they bloody well should.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2009-10-15 01:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Here's what I think. It's not a matter of whether you feel entitled to wireless internet everywhere you go. There are obviously going to be places where it's not available. However, we know that the overhead associated with free wifi is cheap enough that you can get free wifi at McDonald's and at a gas station that doesn't even have a clean bathroom. So what is the justification for charging $14/night for wifi that doesn't even work that well? That is just a capricious upcharge, and it stinks.

As for the power outlets at LAX, that's diabolical. I'll bet you dollars to donuts that in the near future you will find fee-based charging stations in the airport, if it's not there already. There is no free wifi at DTW, as far as I know. There is one internet kiosk, but it costs too much to actually use.

I think the broadband cards are a racket, too. To get unlimited data service on your phone from, say, Sprint, it will cost about $10/month over your regular plan. But if you want the same exact thing to plug into your computer, they charge you $60/month on top of your regular phone service. Let's not even talk about the fact that you should be able to tether your phone to begin with, but they invest a lot of time and money to prevent you from doing that so you'll buy the broadband card.
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Peter Hollo
User: frogworth
Date: 2009-10-15 01:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'll be taking my wonderful little D-Link pocket WAP (this one, or maybe a slightly older version) with me on our upcoming trip.
That way I can plug it into the ethernet port in our hotels, in Router mode, and the hotel should just think all our wireless devices (two laptops, two iPhones, and possibly more!) are just one computer.

We will be charged $0.02 per kB for overseas mobile data! It's always been like that, but roaming 3G/GPRS data charges are outrageous - that's like AUD$20 for 1MB.
I'll be pretty judicious with when I have 3G turned on on my iPhone, and I'll be looking for WiFi hotspots everywhere!
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e_bourne
User: e_bourne
Date: 2009-10-15 03:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
When I traveled, I expected it everywhere. Some airports offended me, Dallas being one of them. I unplugged a vending machine in Dallas where we had a 6 hour layover to plug in my laptop, I was so pissed. And the wifi was poor in sections of the airport. I won't check into a hotel without wifi when I travel personally, and our business travel agency won't put us in a hotel (unless it's outer northern North Dakota) that doesn't have wifi.
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martyn44
User: martyn44
Date: 2009-10-15 05:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It is a reasonable expectation. Those who don't supply it will lose business, easy as that.
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Lawrence M. Schoen
User: klingonguy
Date: 2009-10-15 11:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm surprised you don't travel with one of those little 3G gadgets that provides you your own wifi access wherever you go.

I'm told that the iPhone 3GS is designed to be used like this, though I've also heard that AT&T is trying not to support such use.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-10-15 13:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Back when I used a Treo on the Sprint network, that's exactly what I did. I've been dragging my feet on buying a cellular modem now, because I keep hearing that AT&T will allow data networking on the iPhone soon. Sigh.
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Lawrence M. Schoen
User: klingonguy
Date: 2009-10-15 13:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It would not surprise me to learn that someone leases such a thing on a monthly basis. That would probably serve your needs, until AT&T surrenders to the inevitable.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-10-15 13:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've priced that out. They tend to have the same plans as cell phones, which is to say, if you want month-to-month, you have to spend several hundred dollars on the device. If you're willing to accept a one-year or multi-year commitment, the device is subsidized or free.

Admittedly, I haven't priced them in at least six months. There may be better deals out there now.
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willyumtx
User: willyumtx
Date: 2009-10-18 15:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I just read the following article in Utne about broadband in the US.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2009/0905.thompson.html
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