Free WiFi for all

I’ve had a discussion recently on Twatter with Stuart Berry. He seems like a nice chap, and we had a good discussion.

Screenshot from 2013-04-08 22:21:41

Stuart’s a GP in the NHS, and campaigns for free wifi in NHS buildings with the #nhswifinow hashtag. There’s some really good points: I spend a couple of days in hospital in 2009, and would have killed for decent connectivity, rather than the expensive, shit web access on the bedside TV I did have. If you were in for a long time, it could really help.

Now, don’t know much about healthcare, or the NHS, but I *do* know a bit about wifi, and providing wifi networks over a reasonably-sized site.

I don’t, in principle, disagree with the idea. I’d actually rather like to see universal Internet connectivity for all, everywhere. I’d use it.

However, this is one of those things that, just like the the campaign for wifi on NXWM buses, gets picked up and run with without asking the right questions or considering a few harsh technicalities.

Good wifi is expensive. Good connectivity is expensive, remote managment is expensive, and on-site support engineers are even more expensive. There’s a real danger of people taking the idea of their £15/month domestic broadband, and £35 domestic router, and imagining it will cope on a much larger scale. Trust me: it won’t: I have tried it. It’s unreliable, hard to support, and a wholesale pain in the arse. You can do this, and people do, but you have security and potential illegal usage to bear in mind, on top of all the “I can’t connect” queries, or the “think of the children” content filtering.

Stuart quoted £400 for an ambulance ride to hospital- that sounds reasonable. So, if we’re being a bit awkward, 1 ambulance ride is equal to a decent access point. Which would you rather have if you’re ill? I do think the wifi is a good thing, but can the NHS afford it (and, critically, if not, who does pay)?

An unmanaged, unsupported, poor-performing network is probably worse than nothing, as it delivers the promise, then fails to provide- I wish this idea well (especially as it has secured independent funding), and the proposed device looks very interesting, but providing public wi-fi over shared 3G? *boggle*. The fact that the link in the article goes via facebook speaks volumes.

Turning in particular to buses, the only current, economically viable way to get Internet connectivity to a moving bus (or train, come to that) is 3G (or 4G, I suppose). 3G data is great. It gives us connectivity in many places- but it has problems- dead spots, high latency, changing IPs- I’ve covered this before.

I’d also raise this: surely a good proportion of potential users have their own 3G these days? It seems the whole world had a smartphone before I did, and most of these can do the wifi hotspot trick for if you have a device without it’s own 3G radio. 3G data is no longer expensive, especially compared to the cost of the device you need to use it….

3 Responses to “Free WiFi for all”

  1. species5618 Says:

    i have been involved in providing BYOD wifi at a school, not as a consultant , but as a beta user, as a school goveer i was on site quite regularly, i even worked from the school on one occasion, as my works SSTP vpn worked great through the BYOD wifi and student proxy limitation.

    after several small scale attempts with domestic and even low end SME kit, the inly viable option was a proper Managed solution, they opted for MERU networks, and after seom stiff negotiations about being a trial site for School Wifi, setup cost were minimal (but not cheap)
    admin costa are almost ZERO, with WPA2-enterprise with radia into AD and transpraent proxy, it just works..

    This is a great Demo, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFJXSbAvU_E

  2. species5618 Says:

    also the problem is not just confinded to public bulidings,
    a friend is moving a few hundred miles, but timing has forced them to rent for 3-6 months, as their house sold before they could locate decent accomodation were thay plan to live,

    yoiu try getting a phone / Broadband contract (required as she works from home 2-3 days a week) on a short term basis,

  3. stymaster Says:

    Heard good things about Meru and also Ruckus Wireless. Agreed- a managed solution and good hardware is the sensible option.

    Regarding short-term stuff- never found a good supplier for Internet, but your employer did us short-term ISDN & POTS in Bournemouth, at a price. Internet, fortunately, was supplied by the place we were based, again at a price…

    Could your friend decamp to Starbucks? 🙂