I'm still staggered that the paid-WiFi hotspot industry has managed to squander a solid four year lead, to become virtually a running joke in provision of mobility access. Awful user experience, shocking pricing and limited roaming are still the norm.
Yes, there are some good experiences to be had with premium-grade providers like iPass or Boingo. But for the one-off user, it's only a matter of time before cellular data roaming kills the business dead.
One of those hammering nails into its coffin is undoubtedly Swisscom. I always wince when I find out that they're the provider of what's euphemistically called a "service" at a conference venue.
Today I was at the Femtocell Deployment conference at the Hilton Amsterdam. The irony of a 27 Euro daily fee for WiFi access at an event talking about cheap & effective 3G indoor coverage was palpable. Of course, I could have opted for the "basic" access of 256kbit/s and no VoIP, for a bargain 22 Euros. In the end, I used neither, and picked up email headers via cellular roaming at a (comparably) sane 2 Euros per MB - itself a travesty, but that's another story.
But the real kicker was this - during a discussion last night, a certain mobile/WiFi operator was named as the villain by a separate conference organiser, this time wanting to charge $54000 (yes, you read that right) for providing delegate access at a proposed future event.
For that money, he could probably persuade one of the carriers to install a full HSPA macrocell in the building, with full-spec backhaul, and give everyone a free dongle & SIM card.
Don't get me wrong, I really like using WiFi, and will generally prefer it to mobile broadband if it's available on a free/cheap basis. The latency is better, the speed is better and I generally get better battery life than with a 3G dongle. But it just amazes me that the industry has such a suicidal attitude to pricing.
Conference organisers: choose your venues carefully. Or just put a few 3G routers or dongle-docks around the room, with some cheap prepaid 3G data plans, and bypass the "house" WiFi altogether. Frankly, I'm surprised the people who rent out lighting & conference equipment aren't supplying these already.
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