Sunday, 27 September 2009

Why I'd pay for free wi-fi

I've been to a couple of conferences this year, and both times looked for cheap hotels with free wi-fi. In Birmingham, I needed to finish the presentation (on spam email), so I needed wi-fi to research aspects of that presentation. I also used it to find out about local eateries. It all worked smoothly.

In Bournemouth, at the Lib-Dems conference, I used wi-fi for similar purposes, but also wanted to use it to synchronise my laptop calendar with the calendar on my iPhone, using Apple's MobileMe service which normally does this automatically. The conference fringe timetable is complex, with lunchtime and up to three evening slots, and perhaps a dozen events in each slot. All to be fit around meals, and meet-ups.

I booked a hotel with free wi-fi, but they'd overbooked and moved me to another hotel where I had to pay online before using the wi-fi. At £10 for a week, that's not too bad. The problems started when I tried to pay.

Of course, to manage paid wi-fi, the providers have to put up barriers between me and the Internet. And, they want me to pay over the Internet using PayPal. When I came to pay, my browser popped up a security warning. The security certificate wasn't a PayPal certificate.

I phoned the provider, and was told that this happens quite frequently, and not to worry because the network was completely secure. That's simply not true. Trivially, nothing is completely secure, but in this case I was being asked to click through known security inconsistencies, and given no guidance as to which invalid certificates I should accept.

Throw in a couple of timeouts, and it took me about an hour, in all, to get connected.

Worse, once I was connected, pretty much any secure service I wanted to use wouldn't work properly. Either I had to click through a security warning, or - in the case of the calendar sync process - the service simply would not work.

So, that's a tenner completely wasted, and I'd have gladly paid more than a tenner (for the room) to get free wi-fi, without the payment system that made this so hard to use. Oh, and I never did get the wi-fi to operate with my iPhone - I couldn't get past the paywall even though you're supposed to be able to use multiple devices with the one password.
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