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Summary:

Earlier this morning, market research firm In-Stat released a report entitled “More Than Just Laptops –— Worldwide Hotspots are Impacted by Other Mobile Devices.” They sent out a release full of fluff — and light on facts. “Service providers are reporting an increased number of sessions […]

wfa_certified_logo.gifEarlier this morning, market research firm In-Stat released a report entitled “More Than Just Laptops –— Worldwide Hotspots are Impacted by Other Mobile Devices.” They sent out a release full of fluff — and light on facts.

“Service providers are reporting an increased number of sessions originating from devices other than laptops,” says Daryl Schoolar, In-Stat analyst. “Consumer electronic devices, such as cellphones and handheld gaming devices have also added Wi-Fi as a product feature.”

What they are saying seems to be partially true. Using your WiFi-enabled phone, iPhone or some such device, you try to log into the Wi-Fi hotspot — say the T-Mobile HotSpot — except it almost never works. In reality, it’s more like a “give up after trying” scenario.

Or at least that has been my personal experience at some of the paid hotspots. And that’s not just in the U.S., but even on recent trips to Europe and Asia.

The problem is the web-based landing page, which is hard to navigate and use on a small device such as a Nokia (NOK) N95 mobile phone. Sure there are some workarounds, like software from Devicescape, but it is an inexact science. Even the free Wi-Fi hotspots have some sort of password protection that involves going through a web-based login page.

I would go so far as to say that while the device makers have started adding Wi-Fi to their gear, the user experience is still in the pre-historic times. If you feel otherwise, I would love to know, especially if you have tips and tricks to offer.

  1. Om whats happening at least from the tmobile side is their pre configuring their phones, blackberries(curve) with hotspot login information so its easier to authenticate. On my Tmobile MDA the wi-fi option was never realistic to use due to the way WM5 clumsily handled wi-fi connectivity.

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  2. I have used it on a few of their devices, especially the windows mobile side. as you said, easier to authenticate but hard to maintain the connection. it is pretty frustrating.

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  3. thecloud.net in the UK have it right with the iPod Touch (and I think with other devices too). You just register your MAC address with them, and your device connects automatically when it’s in range of one of their wifi access points.

    It worked first time no problem when I tried it out recently.

    They have the pricing right too – £3.99 a month for unlimited access.

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  4. This is one of those figures where you really have to dig to understand its precise definition before really understanding what it means.

    For example: because many of the mobile devices you mention are set to automatically connect to networks, there are bound to be lots of sessions initiated by devices that never leave the user’s pocket. That doesn’t necessarily make them potential hotspot customers. These accidental connections don’t occur with devices that aren’t always on.

    Obviously, I’m not sure that that’s the case; it all depends on how they define it.

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  5. I’ve only used the N95 in the UK, but I have never had any problems accessing wi-fi in various pubs and coffee shops..bring on the macdonalds

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  6. Not surprised there’s no numbers to back up their claim. You only have to go to any public wifi sites in the US and see how many non-PC devices people are using which is practically zero. After traveling through Europe and Asia, it’s not much better in those regions either.

    I’m sure we’ll get there someday but not for a while. WiFi enabled phones are not prevalent and difficult to use. N95, iPhones, tablets are small in number.

    This is the same self-serving claims made by research companies to sell research reports.

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  7. Alexander van Elsas Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    I manage to get on-line most of the time using my N95. But honestly, I tend to fall back to the HSDPA network, as I don’t need any configuring there. I can always get on. I do use my Home WiFi connection often as well.
    But, the question is, can my wife or any other non technical friend use it as well? I think not. The UI and steps to be taken to get on-line are way to complex to be mass adopted. I recently started experimenting sending pictures to the Internet using my N95, and that was a frustrating experience. I tried it using Shozu and sending pictures from my N95 to Flickr. Eventhough Shozu tries to manage away as much of the complexity as possible, the whole chain of technology, from N95 via access point and application to network and Internet is way too complex. Cost me a lot of frustration:
    http://vanelsas.wordpress.com/2007/10/08/sending-my-mobile-pictures-to-the-internet-is-easy-yeah-right/

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  8. Om,

    Very funny. I thought I was the only one who couldn’t get my iPhone to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots.

    Except…I haven’t been able to even locate the web-based landing page for T-Mobile when I’m at Starbucks. I simply receive a message that says “access not permitted.”

    Cynthia

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  9. I use my Nintendo DS with open WiFi fairly often. In addition to PDAs and phones, it would be nice to have a smooth solution for handheld gaming. I know Nintendo has a deal with Wayport (McDonald’s) for DS access to that network, but I haven’t tried it myself. McDonald’s just seems like an idiotic spot for WiFi–I wouldn’t want to stay there a second longer than I have to.

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  10. Since 2002, I have been trying to use mobile devices with WiFi, and everytime, I have been pretty disappointed. Here is the list of gadgets I have owned and have been thoroughly disappointed with the browser experience and WiFi:

    Toshiba PocketPC PDA (I think the model# was 850)
    Sony PSP
    Nintendo DS (with web browser pack)
    Cingular/AT&T 8525 (aka HTC Hermes/TyTN)

    At first, I thought that maybe it was just that these mobile devices didn’t sport large enough antennas, so my experience wasn’t that great, but there’s also a list of other devices I have used where the experience wasn’t all that great either:

    Tapwave Zodiac 2 (via Bluetooth to GPRS)
    Treo 600/650/680 (via GPRS)
    Palm Tungsten T2 (via Bluetooth to GPRS)
    Motorola RAZR (GPRS)
    LG CU500 (GPRS/3G)

    Things have definitely improved over the time, and I think part of the problem has been solved, primarily, the input. I was almost immediately turned off by accessing the Internet via mobile device because I hated using the phone keypad, virtual keyboard, graffiti, etc. since it was such a hassle, but now that there are more devices with thumb boards and what not, it makes input a lot easier. Also, before, even with WiFi, speed wasn’t very fast on these devices, and I assume part of it was that the pages couldn’t render fast enough, but the CPUs are more powerful, but boy do they suck that battery dry fast.

    The next thing is to either make the screens bigger or to have a higher resolution I think…. that will at least make viewing the site a lot easier for me… :D

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