Tag Archives | Travel

Does Free Wi-Fi=Crummy Wi-Fi?

I’m grateful for the Google Chrome promotion that involves free Wi-Fi service on several airlines this holiday season. But when I flew between San Francisco and Boston last week, I noticed that the free Wi-Fi on Virgin America wasn’t as good as for-pay Wi-Fi I’m accustomed to–I kept getting disconnected. Gizmodo’s Jason Chen theorizes that the Gogo in-flight Internet service isn’t prepared to deal with the onslaught of freebie lovers.


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Gizmodo Uncovers Naked TSA Scanner Images

I really hope the outrage over the TSA’s new scanners and frisking policies–and, just as important, investigative reporting like this–continues until the government has no choice but to make changes.


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Google’s Free Holiday Wi-Fi Skips Layovers, Boards the Plane

Google is bringing back free Wi-Fi to holiday travelers, but with one major difference from last year: Airports are out, more airlines are in.

Delta, AirTran and Virgin America are all participating in the free Wi-Fi offer on all domestic U.S. flights, powered by Gogo. Last year, the offer was valid only on Virgin flights, and at 47 U.S. airports. A splash page will promote Google’s Chrome web browser.

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The End of In-Flight Wi-Fi? Oh, Come On

Aircraft bomb finds may spell end for in-flight Wi-Fi.” That’s the headline on a New Scientist story about last week’s discovery of bombs packed into laser-printer cartridges which were sent from Yemen and apparently intended to blow up airplanes. The point of the story is that terrorists might use in-flight Wi-Fi to communicate from the ground with a cell phone that had been rigged to trigger a bomb aboard a plane, a possibility so risky that it might lead to the abolishing of in-flight Wi-Fi, period.

The article doesn’t really live up to the headline: The closest it gets to evidence that Wi-Fi “may” be banned is a reference to an alarmed explosives expert saying it might be too dangerous.

Seems like a ludicrous overreaction to me. The in-air Wi-Fi I’ve used–Gogo–requires the user to log in and enter a CAPTCHA, and while I don’t discount the possibility of terrorists being smart enough to build a Wi-Fi-based bomb triggering device that can autonomously log into an in-flight network designed to be accessed by humans, it seems like it would require an awful lot of work on their part. Wouldn’t a plain old-fashioned timer produce much the same results with far less effort and technical knowledge required, and less likelihood that the device would fail or be detected?

Remember when a bunch of news organizations suggested that laptops might be banned from airplanes, period? Let’s hope this theory is just as solid as that one…


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Hotel Wi-Fi: Still Not a Given

USA Today has a trend story about upscale hotels hawking two price tiers for wi-fi, with the lower tier sufficient for e-mail and web browsing, and the higher one suitable for video and other high-bandwidth services.

As with the recurring story of wi-fi-free coffee shops, i’m not sure this one is fresh. In my experience, two-tiered wi-fi dates back at least a couple years, and the story presents only anecdotal evidence that the trend is growing: One upscale hotel chain, InterContinental, is testing the concept in three locations, and another, Four Seasons, has expanded two-tier Wi-Fi after testing began last year. InterContinental charges $10 per day for basic access and $15 for higher speeds.

The more surprising part of the story, I think, is that hotels, especially upscale ones, are still charging for wi-fi in the first place.

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The Phone of the Future is Broken

This AT&T computerphone (which seems to be a model that dates from 1991) at JFK’s international terminal is stuck at Windows NT’s boot loader screen. Which isn’t a huge problem, because someone’s stolen almost all the keys–including, sadly, <Ctrl>, <Alt>, and <Del>.

I wonder when it last worked, and when anyone last wanted to use it? I came across it because I was doing what seems to be the most common activity at airport pay phones these days: sitting down so I could use my laptop.


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Hello From My iPad on a Plane

Pay no attention to this post– okay, a little attention if you want, but it doesn’t merit much. I’m on board a Virgin America flight to New York (where I’ll cover RIM’s BlackBerry event tomorrow). And since I have Internet access via Gogo but no laptop–it ran out of juice–I’m trying blogging on my iPad.

Verdict: Doable, but slow and not terribly pleasant. Biggest problem: I’m in a middle seat…


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SFO Wi-Fi Goes Free

Looks like the general trend at U.S. airports is to stop charging for Wi-Fi. Good. Now they just need to start offering more than one AC outlet per terminal…


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TSA: Netbooks Aren’t Notebooks

Do you need to remove your iPad from your briefcase when you go through airport security? No, says “Blogger Bob” of the TSA. But he also says that netbooks don’t need to be removed:

Only electronics the size of a standard laptop or larger (for example Playstation®, Xbox™, or Nintendo®), full-size DVD players, and video cameras that use video cassettes must be removed from their carrying cases and submitted separately for x-ray screening. Removing larger electronics helps us get a better look at them and also allows us to get a better look at the contents of your bag. If you you have a TSA “checkpoint friendly” laptop bag, you can leave your laptop in.)

Which leaves only one question: What, exactly, is a standard laptop?


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Video Calls at 30,000 Feet

My friend John Battelle (who is, among other things, CEO of Federated Media, Technologizer’s advertising partner) was on a cross-country United plane flight equipped with Wi-Fi last night. He used iChat to do a videochat with his wife and kids, who were back at home in the Bay Area. And John got busted–by a flight attendant who told him that video calls are forbidden for security reasons.

John says that there don’t seem to be FAA rules prohibiting video calls. Which sounds logical: Once a plane has Wi-Fi, I’m not sure if if there’s anything terrorists could do with video that they couldn’t do equally effectively with other communications means, such as IM. (Besides, they’d probably ignore any rules against video calling–hey, they’re terrorists.)

But there are at least two other plausible arguments against video calling in the air. One involves the people surrounding the folks doing the calling, who might find the call intruding on their personal space. (Probably depends in part on the courtesy of the person doing the calling, but I sometimes have a hard time dealing with gabby seatmates who are simply making phone calls before takeoff or after landing.)

The other issue is bandwidth: I don’t how much speed a service like Aircell’s Gogo has to share among everybody on a flight, but it’s not infinite–and consuming video might bog things down for everybody else. (Of course, video of any sort could do that–I wonder if Gogo does anything to block, say, Hulu?)

I have a hard time living without inflight Wi-Fi these days–I’m going to use it so much on Virgin America this month that I shelled out for a month-long pass–but I could tolerate with a ban on video. (Then again, if I was sitting next to John and noticed he was chatting with his family, I wouldn’t press the Flight Attendant button and squeal on him.)

Your take?


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