When computer manufacturers first introduced wireless connectivity it felt like an absolute miracle. “How can it be possible to transfer emails, photos and video via thin air?” the people gasped. Impressive indeed. But once the novelty wore off more questions began to arise. Questions like “Who will control the wireless networks?”, “Are they secure?”, “How can I protect mine?”
Unfortunately, no answers were immediately forthcoming and the result was the rather random spread of conflicting techniques to lock, charge, share and generally confuse people that has left most mobile internet users in a complete cyber haze.
Anyone who travels in Asia will soon tell you how perplexing the wireless maze can be. Smart, well organised airports like Changi in Singapore offer free wireless connections in their departure lounges, while others require you to register or buy one of several cards provided by third party operators that may or may not work depending on the prevailing wind direction.
Once you arrive at your destination, your hotel may or may not offer a free wifi service (even when free means its been added to your room rate). Coverage may or may reach every room, which means sitting in the lounge and feeling obliged to drink overpriced cappuccino. If charges apply, they can vary enormously with the amount of connection time you get for your money ranging from 30 minutes to a week! Worse still, a good wireless connection by no means guarantees a good internet connection, so when you finally get a signal the internet can be painfully slow, especially when you’re sharing it with 200 other guests.
Intrepid, mail-addicted travellers may choose to strike out in search of a cafe or bar with a wifi service. But, once again, they soon fall prey to individual whims and profit margins. Big chains often charge big money for short periods, while independents may offer free wifi to draw in customers, but then seem to resent anyone surfing for more than five minutes or asking for the password without ordering a 5 course meal.
When you finally settle with a coffee and a Danish, the next challenge is solving the password conundrum. Fear of sneaky hackers guessing the magic word and gaining free access has led to ever more complex combinations with upper and lower case letters jumbled around numbers and strange distorted nonsense words that have to be copied into boxes before you even get a sniff at google. Of course, if you type the letters wrong a few times you begin to wonder if the codes are wrong. Ask for another card, however, and you will be told to contact the service provider’s call centre, a fate far worse than an empty browser.
Of course, you can still get lucky. In Kuala Lumpur the entire CBD is served by free WIFI (as long as you can handle filling out the probing registration form) and you may even find that an unsuspecting neighbour has forgotten to lock their connection. But then doubts start to creep in as to security. Have they left it open so they can look at my emails? Will they know if I sneak a quick look at the latest You Tube video of Britney in the buff? God forbid if you want to buy anything online. They could steal your entire life savings remotely!
With today’s pressure to keep up with your email, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and not to mention the myriad news services we all check to make sure we don’t miss the latest developments in far flung dictatorships, lack of WIFI can often lead to a serious cases of “Connection Anxiety”. That said it may sometimes be best to set your office auto response to “away” and take a good book on holiday.