Staying Connected

Since getting my T-Mobile Sidekick in October, I’m rarely without email or web access, something I’ve started to take for granted. So when I had to travel to London earlier this week I had to figure out how to stay connected. Ideally the Sidekick would work in London, but unfortunately it’s a single-band GSM 1900 device. So I had to rely on a couple of alternatives that ended up working fine, if not quite as seamlessly. It was very cool and useful to be able to use my US GPRS service in London. I hadn’t planned on using Wi-Fi but it was nice to stumble upon it even though the confusing WISP registration prevented me from using it. In the end I ended up using cheap, by the hour wired access at an internet cafe.

In addition to my Sidekick I use a Sony Ericsson T68i with service from T-Mobile. T-Mobile has international voice roaming in over 90 countries and recently introduced data roaming in European markets where they have T-Mobile affiliates. Using GPRS abroad costs $15 per megabyte, which is pricey, but keeps you connected in a pinch. I found that I had to use this a couple of times since my hotel's broadband connection didn't work. Plus the gadget freak in me just wanted to see if international GPRS roaming would work and it did. I already had my laptop set up to use my T68i as a modem over Bluetooth and this set up worked in London exactly as it works in the US. But at $15 per megabyte I limited myself to downloading email.

To access the web I needed a faster and cheaper connection than I could get with GPRS. So I headed to easyInternetcafe, a chain of self-service internet cafes that I've used many times before in London and New York. I had a list of the local Starbucks with free Wi-Fi access, but none were particularly close to the area I was in. When I arrived at the easyInternetcafe on High Street Kennsington I was pleasantly surprised to see a Surf and Sip sticker in the window. Surf and Sip is a US based WISP that specialized in Wi-Fi enabling cafes.

I went in and turned on my laptop which immediately found the Surf and Sip access point. When I opened my browser I landed on the Surf and Sip login page which gave me the options of signing up for service or using a prepaid coupon. I didn't want to sign up for a subscription so prepaid seemed like a better option. But where do I buy the coupon? The easyInternetcafe is totally automated, you buy access from vending machines that dispense coupons for use with their terminals.

So I figured I would just buy one of the easyInternetcafe coupons and that would work as the prepaid coupon. That didn't work, which upon reflection makes sense. It would require integration between easyInternetcafe and Surf and Sip's billing systems. Given that this is the only easyInternetcafe with Surf and Sip access, this must be a trial and so they would not have done any sort of billing integration. On second thought I went back and checked the Surf and Sip registration options and saw they offered a 24 hour pass online for 5GBP. But wait I had already purchased 1.5 hours of time with easyInternetcafe for 2GBP which was about all I needed.

While it would have been nice to surf with my own laptop I just used one of easyInternetcafe terminals since I really didn't want to pay another 5GBP. Had I read the Surf and Sip registration options first I probably would have opted for that option. But given the way the Surf and Sip registration page is laid out it gives you the impression that you have only two choices, sign up for a subscription or use a prepaid card. Surf and Sip should consider redesigning the login page so that it separates options for registered users and one-time users. For the latter they need to more clearly lay out payment options and list which locations require physical prepaid cards versus purchase of day passes with credit cards.

In fact I suggest they drop the physical prepaid cards all together and only offer credit card payment. Physical prepaid cards for Wi-Fi access require that people at the venues, whether they be hotel reception staff or cafe baristas, be aware of their facility's Wi-Fi service. In my experience they rarely are and this is just another point of failure in getting online.

The pricing options also seem limited especially at easyInternetcafe where they are competing with their wired access prices. EasyInternetcafe charges vary depending on the time of day. In my experience access typically costs between $1 and $3 per hour. So in my case easyInternetcafe was a much better deal at 2GBP for 1.5 hours versus 5GBP for 24 hours of which I was only going to use 1.5 hours. If Surf and Sip finds itself in more internet cafes where it's competing with the cafes per hour pricing they will have to offer per hour pricing. Maybe they can charge a premium for the convenience of using your own laptop, but really they should be giving you a discount for BYOL (bringing your own laptop).

Now I'm sure Surf and Sip would argue they are in the business of selling subscriptions and that day passes are a losing proposition. That maybe true, but the reality is that no one Wi-Fi subscription is a good value unless you use the same location all the time. For most road warriors that's not an option.

So while I didn't have seamless, cheap internet access I was able to stay connected. I suspect that in the future many things will change to make staying connected even easier. The Sidekick will eventually support international roaming, GPRS prices will continue to plummet (speed increases would be nice too), and Wi-Fi will show up in more places and eventually just be free.

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Comments on “Staying Connected”

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1 Comment
Henry says:


Now that I have gotten all the hype about easyinternetcafe, I am still wondering what type of computer systems they use. How cost effective are they and who are the manufacturers. I am also interested in their manufacturers and any infomation about their server configuration. Any one who could provide the above could be in business with the author of this message.

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