27 February of 2014

WiFi on the Move

by Xue Li & Lisa Stephan

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Nowadays people are traveling across borders more than ever. They need innovative ways of getting Internet while travelling. Katrin Durst, a 24-year old girl from Germany, is one of them.

Katrin Durst is visiting Oslo, Norway, for a two-week study project. After arrival, more important than the question “where is the toilet?”, Katrin has the urge to find the quickest access to the Internet. She goes to the reception of the hostel and can then access to the free WiFi-Network. But Katrin wonders: “How can I get Internet when I’m travelling outside?”

Katrin is accsessing Eduroam at Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus

Katrin is accsessing Eduroam at Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus

Katrin is using a phone service from O2 back in Germany, but now she has to pay 1.99 € for 25 MByte every day. 25 MByte will be gone within some hours, and each additional MByte costs 0.54 €. Katrin quits using Internet from her German card since it is just too expensive. The high roaming fees are a universal phenomenon. A mobile expert from a Scandinavian mobile operator explains: “High roaming fees are there, not because there is a technical issue, it is a business decision. This is not for one operator only; all operators have huge revenues from roaming.” To save students from roaming fees, the Norwegian teacher in the project gives everyone a SIM card from the local operator MyCall. If Katrin puts 199 kr into the card, she can get a package of 500 MByte data plus voice and messages. “199 kr is still too much for just two weeks,” Katrin thinks. She doesn’t recharge the Norwegian SIM card. “There must be other ways to have Internet access”, she thinks.

Katrin sets off for a journey for innovative solutions how to be online.

Educational network: Eduroam
The next day, while studying at Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus (HiOA), Katrin finds the WiFi-service Eduroam. Back home in Germany, she uses Eduroam at her school, Stuttgart Media University. But now she is in Norway, is it the same Eduroam? Curiously she enters her username and password she is using in Germany, and clicks “Connect”. Few seconds later the connection is established! It works! Eduroam is the largest network to get access to WiFi on campus around the world. The great idea behind Eduroam is to enable members of research and higher education a quick and easy access to the Internet worldwide. With the username from one of the participating schools, students can login in to the free WiFi on any other campus in 67 territories in the world.

Number of Eduroam hotspots all over the world

Amount of hotspots for each country in comparison

Municipal wireless network: Muni WiFi
Apart from Eduroam, more and more places in the world are becoming a Wireless Access Zone. Taipei offers free public WiFi in the whole city. Travellers from countries where mobile phone numbers use a real-name authentication system can register online with their phone numbers, while others have to do it at a certain service center on arrival. The USA has much more cities with muni WiFi than Europe. It is a hard decision for every city to offer free WiFi since it can get really expensive. Tel Aviv-Yafo is the first city in Israel to offer free city WiFi with a cost of $1.6 million for the government. A supplement to government’s tight budget on infrastructure construction is from the business side. For example, Oslo is not a muni WiFi city, yet most cafes, bars, restaurants are offering free WiFi. Of course it is not that “free”, since you have to pay for their services. That’s the reason why muni WiFi enjoys such popularity among tourists. You don’t need to pay anything for municipal WiFi.

Share of European smartphone users prefering WiFi

Private WiFi sharing network: Fon
Pim Baars, a student from the Netherlands, who is also participating in the project, suggests to Katrin a new way of getting access to free WiFi. He is in a WiFi network built by Ziggo, the largest cable operator in the Netherlands, which offers him access to all members’ WiFi, but only within the country border. Pim and Katrin start to look for a similar company offering global network and Fon comes into their sight. With using a Fon router customers still will get private WiFi but are able to share it with people entering their WiFi range. This shared Internet can be used worldwide as long you’ve installed a Fon router at your home, too. The Fon network is now active in Europe, South America and Japan. When asked if she will use Fon, Katrin hesitates: “If people connect to my WiFi station, and I am connected as well, that’s a little bit strange. It would be interesting to see how exactly it works.”

Katrin is not alone. Security is an issue that all Internet users are concerned about and all Internet suppliers try hard to promise. Visit Tel Aviv insists on the safety of the city WiFi: “Firewalls will be put in place to prevent access to offensive sites.” Fon also claims its safety usage by explaining: “A Fon Spot is made up of two separate, dedicated WiFi signals – one private signal just for you, one shared signal for other members and visitors to the network.” Frode Eika Sandnes, pro-rector of Research at HiOA adds his comment on this issue: “Security lies on top. It is independent of the underlying technology. No matter what technology, 3G or WiFi, you don’t know who’s going to attack you on this road. You have to protect yourself anyway.”

Though playing a tie on security issue, the three innovative ways do have pros and cons. Eduroam is the easiest way as long as you are a student (an adding-score point to be student for the whole life). Municipal WiFi also works well under the circumstance that your destination city is offering the service. And for Fon, you need to check the map of hotspots, which is not covering the world yet, and hoping to find one nearby. What matters to Katrin is next time traveling abroad, she has more choices to keep online and link with people both local and back home.

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