2 min read

Getting the chills about Wi Fi

It looks like access is decreasing, not increasingrn

I’m getting cold feet about hotspots.

When the talk began about using Wi-Fi to provide wireless Internet access in public places, I was eager.

It sounded ideal: A way to have fast Internet access from my own full-fledged computer — not just e-mail on a pocket-sized device — without finding

somewhere to plug in.

When Bell Canada conducted early trials, I wrote a column that started off crowing about how I had fired up my laptop in Toronto’s Union Station, checked my e-mail and browsed the Web.

A few days ago, I sat in Union Station and tried to connect to that same hotspot. No luck. The sign promoting connectivity is still there, but for the third time in as many attempts over the past few months, I couldn’t get it to work.

I’ve asked Bell media relations twice if the hotspot was shut down. No answer. I called Bell tech support once and was told it was out of order. The technician didn’t know how long it had been down or when it would be fixed.

I tried to connect once in the Lone Star restaurant on Toronto’s Front Street, which is supposed to have a Boldstreet hotspot. No success.

I succeeded in one of the service centres along Highway 401 between Toronto and Kingston, but finished my Tim Horton’s sandwich, my donut and most of my coffee in the time it took to get a connection.

While attending an Ottawa convention I got a signal in a hotel lobby, but found I couldn’t log on unless I checked into the hotel.

In another Ottawa hotel where I stayed for two nights, in-room wireless service worked intermittently. Telecom Ottawa supposedly blankets a long stretch of Elgin St. in Ottawa with a “”hot zone.”” I only had a chance to look for it in one place, but had no luck there.

Not my hardware

Is my hardware, a five-year-old ThinkPad with a Wi-Fi card installed, the problem? Well, I have had successful connections to hotspots and Wi-Fi works at home with my own wireless hub. Delays in establishing connections might be partly the hardware’s fault.

I hesitated to write this column because of that concern, but it’s becoming evident I’m not the only one having these problems.

And that’s not all. Hotspot deployment is not living up to the promise.

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre has a wireless network, but it’s available to conference attendees only if the conference organizer arranges for access — and I have not seen it offered at technology conferences I attend there.

Pearson International Airport in Toronto has an extensive wireless network, and like the convention centre’s, it’s for internal use. Hotspots are available only in some first-class lounges.

Via Rail offers hotspot service in first class cars only on a couple of trains.

When I last asked Via, expansion plans called for service on more trains eventually, but only in first class. Toronto’s is the only station that ever had generally available hotspot service — again some first-class lounges have it.

Which leaves what?

Yes, there are hotspots out there. But they don’t seem to be appearing in many places where one would naturally want to use them, and those that exist aren’t always reliable.

It’s a nice idea. Too bad it doesn’t seem to be living up to the hype.