Hotels and Wi-Fi

May 6, 2010 on 11:15 am | In Wi-Fi and travel, international travel, personal travel | 1 Comment

A recent New York Times article indicated that some hotels now consider Wi-Fi availability as standard an offering as a bed.

Well, that seems debatable. First, many hotels seem to overcharge for Wi-Fi connectivity. Second, the bandwidth available at hotels is usually limited and service is slow. Finally, the Wi-Fi service in hotels is often spotty and not available everywhere you need it. If Wi-Fi at hotels were to become standard, the service would be free, available where you needed it (including public areas, patios, swimming pools and restaurants), and serviced by high-bandwidth connections.

While the article referenced above is U.S.-centric in its coverage of Wi-Fi, you may be wondering whether you will find Wi-Fi in your hotel in Europe. The answer is most likely yes, but if this is a critical issue for you, find out before you book your hotel. There may be a little sticker-shock when you look at the charges, as a 24-hour session usually costs in the range of €20, or slightly higher. While plans for using Wi-Fi only for a portion of a day are usually available, they are very high in respect to the daily plans (e.g. €8 for 2 hours or €5 for an hour (if available)).

In hotels in major metropolitan areas of China and Southeast Asia, you will find the daily rates for Wi-Fi from hotels to be around $25. The prices will be similar in the Australia and New Zealand.

During a recent trip to Vienna, we were stunned to see even higher rates for Wi-Fi at our hotel, but as we dug deeper, we realized that these rates were for business users who required higher speeds and the ability to send large files. In very small print at the bottom of the brochure, we discovered that there was an alternative for connecting, if you did not need high data volumes, but that the procedure for connecting to it was slightly different than described in the main brochure. Once we unlocked it, the service was fine and, best of all, free.

We have found the Wi-Fi connection speeds at hotels, in general, to be slow and subject to degradation, especially in the morning when the business travelers awaken and check their email. Highest speeds seem to be available in the mid-afternoon, late at night and very early in the morning.

Of course, there are other options for finding Wi-Fi and there are many free services available almost anywhere you travel. We have found that the free services generally are not accessible from hotels, but if you are willing to walk to a coffee shop or a public access point, you can get your work done there. Usually the public hotspots are slow, but in some areas the provisioning of the systems produces high transmission rates.

It is important to remember that the Wi-Fi connections at hotels, airports, Starbucks, and other publicly available hotspots are not secure. In other words, there is no guarantee that someone is not “sniffing” the packets sent to and from your laptop. What this means is that you should avoid sending any secure information, such as a credit card number, over these connections. In addition, if you need to supply a password for you email account in order to access it, be sure and change it periodically, so if your password was snagged, you can re-secure your account. Of course, it is always possible that they will snag your password and take control of your account, locking you out, so be as careful as you can when using public Wi-Fi.

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