Wi-fi interference – fact and fiction

Geekabit love a bit of problem solving, and this week we have been looking at some of the myths commonly associated with wi-fi interference. Wireless devices are everywhere now, in both home and office environments, and interference is something worth reading up on if you want to keep your network performing at its best.

All may seem well with your network if the most you ask of it is web surfing and occasionally up or downloading large files, but it will be being impacted by external interference and you may not realise how much, until you ask more of your network. For example, should you decide to use your wireless network for your business’s telephone calls and invest in VoIP phones, you will need a network resilient to interference – this becomes more important if you have multiple lines.

So what might cause interference, and how? Some of these might surprise you! Microwave ovens, fluorescent lights, bad electrical connections and cordless phones are all culprits, among many others – it might just be worth taking a look around your office and seeing what might be lurking. When a device on your network senses an interference burst occurring (such as someone switching on the microwave to heat up their lunch!), it will hold off its own transmission until the interference has finished, resulting in a domino effect of hold ups and transmissions. This will negatively impact the capacity of your wireless network, and needs to be addressed.

Next month we will share the secrets of preventing interference with you – be sure to pop back!

Wi-Fi Security

More and more work is now being done from home or remotely, which provides great benefits and quality of working life to employees, and can help an employer to lower costs and motivate their workforce.  But what risks are there to working ‘outside the firewall’ that most businesses IT departments provide for workers in the office?

Security firm Tripwire have conducted a survey of over 1,000 remote workers in the UK and US, and found that 85% of them use the default IP address on their wireless router. Worryingly, the same study found that only half of the 600 IT and security professionals surveyed at the same time had adjusted their IP address – and they really should know better!

The results of the study also recorded that 52 percent of IT professionals and 59 percent of employees haven’t updated the firmware on their routers sine purchase, and 30 percent of IT professionals and 46 percent of employees haven’t yet changed the default admin password on their routers.

So the freedom to work away from the office does carry with it some significant security risks. Some companies will already have requirements in place for those choosing to work remotely, but for others, perhaps knowing that basic wifi security measures are not being undertaken may make them rethink their policy.

Hotel wi-fi – why are we still being charged?

Having just returned from a very welcome holiday in the States, it was interesting to see how many of the large hotel chains still charge for wi-fi access. It was often free of charge provided you were located in a corner of the lobby, but should you wish to have access in your room, lets say to Skype loved ones in privacy or to tackle a tricky work task away from the hustle and bustle of public areas, a fee would be levied for the privilege.
Web magazine Hotel Chatter looked into the issue (focusing on hotels in America), and found that although wi-fi is free of charge in rooms in 64% of hotels, many of the big names still charge.

We found this to be pretty staggering stuff, considering that in a recent survey by Hotels.com, customers ranked free wi-fi to be the most important service offered by a hotel, and many of the main hotel price comparison sites will allow you to filter hotels by free wi-fi availability.

So why are the large chains still charging?
Is it simply holding to ransom those customers who want the security of staying in a hotel from a well know chain, in an age where many people cannot function on a personal or professional level without being connected to the internet? It seems this could indeed be the case – it is easy money,essentially making an extra few percent on each room rate sold. A quick look at Trip Advisor shows that some customers are not happy, especially when they are not informed about this charge when booking… so perhaps we will see the large hotel chains being forced to reconsider?

In the meantime, should you be planning a trip to the States in the near future, the chains still charging for wi-fi in your room include: Marriott, Hyatt, Sheraton, Waldorf Astoria, Ritz-Carlton, InterContinental and Hilton.

Marriott Misbehaving

Here at Geekabit we are great believers in free, reliable and straightforward wi-fi being offered in public places, such as bars, restaurants, hotels and coffee shops. It is universally expected, welcomed, and even our own research shows it does influence whether people choose to return to your business.

Which is why we were completely staggered to read that the hotel group Marriott were fined in the US in November last year for blocking wi-fi hotspots in one of its hotels, forcing business travellers to pay to access to Marriott’s own network. What makes it even more suspect, and outrageous, is that their wi-fi charges are normally $14.95 per day, but in this instance the jamming happened during a business conference, and the charges were considerably higher.

Marriott were fined $600,000 by America’s Federal Communication Commission (the FCC), who called the hotel chains actions ‘unacceptable’, and reinforced point that all jamming devices are illegal. Marriott released a statement claiming that they were simply trying to protect their customers from ‘rogue wireless hotspots’, and demanded that the FCC clearly define the law.

In an era where some customers find it tiresome to even have to ‘sign in’ to free wi-fi hotspots, we cannot imagine the impact this type of negative press would have on a UK based hotel chain, and will be keeping a close eye on the ‘Marriott affair’ in the weeks to come.

Wi-Fi hotspots versus mobile broadband

We often blog about wi-fi hotspots in the UK and abroad, so today we wanted to see what impact the planned universal (well, 98% of the UK!) 3G and 4G coverage have on the prevalence of hotspots?

The majority of people using public wi-fi hotspots only need the internet for short bursts – to check social media, read a few emails or compare the price of a product while shopping. When 3G was first launched as a service, it was unreliable, slow and often hard to access inside a building so the rapid growth of wi-fi services continued unabated. Now the performance of wi-fi and mobile broadband are on a par, with 4G often quicker than wi-fi hotspots in public places, so mobile broadband is the easiest option for these users.

43% of customers signed up to EE’s 4G service said they now rarely needed to use wi-fi hotspots, and turned off the wi-fi connection of their mobile when out and about. Fiddly sign-up forms still required by some hotspot providers also put people off using them if there is quick and reliable 3G or 4G, but these forms are becoming less common as a result.

Wi-fi hotspots will not disappear, with a big plus being that they are usually free, so you can download data and preserve your allowance. Mobile network operators are also working to improve the security of data sent over these networks, and make sure speed and reliability are up to scratch, but there is no doubt that they will become less relevant in the face of increasing 4G coverage.

Weird & wonderful wi-fi hotspots

Wi-fi is our business, and we have previously covered the fact that most people in the Western world now expect free and reliable wi-fi (or 3G/4G) everywhere they go. This got us thinking about the opposite –  where on earth is there wi-fi where you would never expect it?

First up, is Barneo Ice Camp, which as the name might suggest, is a mere 80kms from the North Pole. Wi-fi was installed here by Intel in 2005 to allow research data to be sent back to institutions many miles  south.
There is, would you believe, wi-fi at Everest Base Camp, 5,000 meters above sea level. Very useful for uploading that ‘summit selfie’ with your Sherpa.

In slightly warmer climes, lots of tourist beaches in Europe and the States now offer wi-fi hotspots, so you can post happy sunshine filled updates to social media all day long, making friends, family and workmates green with envy.

Finally, some graveyards in the US are now offering free wi-fi, proving that you will never quite escape from Twitter, even when six feet under! There are also reports of QR codes being placed on graves, so one can find out more information about who is buried there. Rather ghoulish, and  topical given the shops are filling up with pumpkins and skeleton costumes!

So you might be pleasantly surprised to find strong and reliable wi-fi in the most unexpected of places. Your author today speaks from a point of bitter experience, but with 4G rather than wi-fi. There is absolutely no 4G coverage in the vaguely rural pocket of Hampshire in which I dwell, but I was astonished to have a strong 4G signal at the Aguille du Midi, looking up at Month Blanc and standing within touching distance of the highest point in Europe….

A little bit of healthy competition

Geekabit has been a hotbed of activity this week – we got stuck into a little telephone rewiring in Southampton and donated a wi-fi router to a Hampshire community hub this week. We all agree that the best way to unwind after a hard day’s work (or prepare for one, if early mornings are your thing) is to get out and exercise, and it probably won’t come as surprise that we can get a little competitive from time to time. Not that competitiveness is a bad thing when it comes to exercise and keeping fit and healthy – quite the opposite.

The great discovery that has changed the way we exercise came in the form of Nike+ Running, an app that allows you to log routes and distances, keep track of timing and pace but most importantly – set up a Nike+ Challenge and compete against other users. This is currently fuelling the fire of competitiveness amongst friends and Sprechen colleagues at the moment. Yes, you may look like a bit of a lemon running around with an iPhone strapped to your arm, but you know that every metre you run is being logged, added to your total and waved in the face of your fellow Nike+ users when they log in. What better motivation to run that little bit further each day? And a healthy body helps the mind stay agile and healthy too, so you know you are getting a wi-fi and networking team that is in tip-top shape and ready to work hard for you.