back to article France kicks UK into third place for public Wi-Fi hotspots

The UK is ranked third in the world for publicly available Wi-Fi, with one hotspot per 11 people, according to research released on Monday, but France leads the way, while the US steals second place. By 2018, the number of UK hotspots will increase to one per five people, according to Wi-Fi provider iPass. The number of …

  1. Tom Wood

    Who cares?

    With 4G there isn't really much call to use wifi in public (bars, train stations etc) in the UK. In fact I use wifi hotspots mainly when abroad and trying to avoid data roaming.

    Besides, quality is better than quantity - those hotspots that make you do some elaborate sign-up dance (involving handing over an email address to allow them to spam you) for which you are rewarded with a rather mediocre connection are barely worth using.

    1. StephenD

      Re: Who cares?

      Agreed: by the time you've eliminated those which require the elaborate sign-up dance, and the elaborate login dance, and the give-us-your-money dance, and those which are broken because the host doesn't know how to maintain the system, and those where the connection is so slow as to be useless, and those which require me to receive a verification text message on my data-only tablet, and those that are time-limited, what's left is far more often a hindrance than a help.

    2. Mondo the Magnificent
      Devil

      Re: Who cares?

      I do!

      As a resident of Strasbourg, this city is pocked with free WiFi as well as insanely fast 4G.

      My 4G on a Galaxy S5 claims 111Mb/s on Ookla "Speed Test" that is faster than any WiFi hotspot, but it's NOT FREE! My contract limits me to 1 gigabyte per month.

      Let's also consider how many people are still using 3G phones, more than capable for all things Internet, but again, some CSP's do not offer unlimited 3G either, so WiFi hotspots FTW

      The wireless hotspots are a blessing for those with 3G devices and on PAYG or capped 3G/4G contracts,, those who bought cheaper earlier generation iPads without 3G support (like my good self) and of course for those who want to use their beloved laptops within the coffee shops, diners and other such places.

      Lastly, Strasbourg is very close to Germany, so when we head of to Kehl, Germany to go shopping, the "international roaming" charges kick in, which is madness because Kehl is 2.4KM from Strasbourg, but it's over the [non existent] border, however the free WiFi in Kehl helps overcome those unjust international roaming charges that makes the CSP smile

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Who cares?

        "My 4G on a Galaxy S5 claims 111Mb/s on Ookla "Speed Test" that is faster than any WiFi hotspot, but it's NOT FREE! My contract limits me to 1 gigabyte per month."

        At least you can boast to the rest of us that you can burn through your monthly data allowance in about nine seconds.

        1. Ossi

          Re: Who cares?

          Actually, it would take him 72 seconds.

        2. stanimir

          Re: Who cares?

          you can burn through your monthly data allowance in about nine seconds.

          Hmm, the OP says 111Mb/s which is bits not bytes. One 1GiB would be like 8Gib and that depends if it's "true" data (payload) or includes the network envelops.

      2. Slx

        Re: Who cares?

        Your local network's 'insanely fast' in that area because the network's priced the data so high that nobody's using it for anything significant.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      WTF?

      Re: Who cares?

      With 4G there isn't really much call to use wifi in public (bars, train stations etc) in the UK....

      Please feel free to leave the city and large towns......you may be surprised your super duper 4G plan is fucking useless....3G, whats that?.

    4. Just Enough
      Facepalm

      Re: Who cares?

      "With 4G there isn't really much call to use wifi in public (bars, train stations etc) in the UK. In fact I use wifi hotspots mainly when abroad and trying to avoid data roaming."

      Nothing like answering your own question in the same paragraph. People who are not in their home country care. Amazingly this even happens to people in the UK.

  2. Andrew Oakley
    FAIL

    But are hotspots indicative of poor 3G?

    I'm not convinced that large numbers of hotspots is automatically "better" than smaller numbers, especially not in areas that have comparable population and income. It could simply indicate awful 3G coverage, especially as France has a more rural spread than the UK.

    My own experience in France is that there are lots of terribly shonky wi-fi hotspots that underperform 3G by many megabits/sec. Unless you're in clearly IT-savvy premises such as conference centres, then most hotel, café and campsite wifi in France is usually unusable. It's then down to coverage maps and an unlocked 3G router to find the best network for the local area, then grab a Pay As You Go SIM from a French high street chain. It pays to have researched coverage and downloaded/printed the 3G settings for all the French national providers, before leaving these shores.

    Added to this shonkyness is the problem of campsites & holiday parks charging exorbitant fees for next to no data allowance or limited time, whilst still being unusably shonky.

    1. Jean Le PHARMACIEN

      Re: But are hotspots indicative of poor 3G?

      " then grab a Pay As You Go SIM from a French high street chain"

      Good luck on that one! I bought a "Let's Go" data SIM from Orange in France - worked for a week then stopped - after much haggling in the shop that my unlocked vodafone mifi was not the fault [severely testing my spoken French] the assistant went through the same thing with their tech support before I eventually got a replacement SIM - but lost my original free 2Gb data in the process. In addition these are impossible to buy top-up for on-line because the Orange payment system will not accept a UK credit/debit card (or at least Natwest/Nationwide). Thak goodness the Tabacs sell top-ups - even if you have to tell them which one to pick [testing my spoken French yet again]. Apparently this is not an unusual tale (judging from comments on the Orange.fr forums).

      But the 3G was!....non-existent in my semi-rural bit of France. EDGE was the best achieved - I was only 3km from a [small] town and pass a telecoms mast on the way there. Plenty of 'free' (if you are an Orange customer) wifi in town [La Chatre] but the login would not accept the Orange Let's Go username/pass even though it is supposed to. Don't get me started on SFR (formerly Vodaphone partner) coverage - the 'reseau' covers 99% of France - yup, you guessed it - that's 99% of population and none in my part of (non mountinous) rural France.

      Oh and if there's a thunderstorm in the offing - be prepared for all data services to disappear as every local pulls the plug on their Livebox and even the cellular network disappears - somtimes for days afterwards...

  3. Peter 26

    I find wifi hotspots more annoying than useful the majority of the time. Usually I'm wondering why I have no internet connection any more, then realising I've automatically connected to a BT hot spot with 1 bar...

    It is handy for the tube and when out of mobile signal though.

    Androids Lollipop update is apparently going to resolve this by not forcing you to use wifi when connected unless it is actually working. We will see, I hope it works.

    1. Colin Miller

      Turn of wifi

      You can turn off WiFi on JellyBean and KitKat on the slide-down menu.

    2. jonathanb Silver badge

      I have that feature on Kitkat, (Galaxy Note 2), so it may be a Samsung addon. It works, and a welcome new feature when I downloaded the update.

  4. David Black

    Not my experience

    Spent quite a lot of traveling time in slightly more rural France over the summer and I can honestly say that finding a wifi hotspot was rare and finding a free one near impossible. Most of the wifi were tied to a telco provider and you need to be a landline customer to use them so for the people who'd benefit most (cheapskate tourists like me) then it's a waste. On the other hand in the US, I find lots of free wifi in most locations where there are buildings and grab a free ride and Skype til my hearts content. In the UK it's somewhere between the two. Only anecdotal I know and YMMV but the report isn't really about the human benefit.

    One other point should be landmass coverage... it doesn't matter that I have 200 accessible wifi points here in London right now, I'm only using one, but finding a single one in the cafe in Tomintoul was much more valuable and it was the only one for many, many, many miles.

    1. Extra spicey vindaloo

      Re: Not my experience

      If you have a BT FON connection in the uk, you can use your FON account on SFR networks,

      When I was in the UK this year, I could connect to BTFON network by using my SFR login credentials.

      It even worked in the US in one coffee shop I found.

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      Re: Not my experience

      Spent quite a lot of traveling time in slightly more rural France over the summer and I can honestly say that finding a wifi hotspot was rare and finding a free one near impossible. Most of the wifi were tied to a telco provider and you need to be a landline customer to use them so for the people who'd benefit most (cheapskate tourists like me) then it's a waste.

      Really? Just buy a more expensive skate then! In my experience every small village has a few dozen hotspots. They are normally not open ones, as the law in France states that the owner of an "insufficiently secured" network* is legally responsible of all the content that goes through it. Schemes like Fon and the like are the norm; indeed you have to be a subscriber of an affiliate network. That way the free (not open) network can identify you as the source of the traffic, should you engage in highly illegal activities such as nuclear powerplant hacking, twits with the word "bomb" in them, or -Cog forbid- sharing of copyrighted material.

      *yes, it's stupid. That's the law though.

      1. David Black

        Re: Not my experience

        Thanks for the explanation... did wonder why it was so hard to find a cafe or bar with any sort of "public" wifi.

        I'm not sure of the network affiliates... that wasn't at all clear when I was there and the login hangs were a thing of legend. Cheap 3G SIM and hope for signal was the best bet :)

        1. Metrognome

          Re: Not my experience

          Yep. And the absolute worst place for this is Italy where no foreigner can ever be allowed on those spots.

          On the other end of the spectrum, Poland allows the sale of SIM cards with no ID whatsoever, they only cost a couple of pounds and offer a gig of 4G data.

          Gofigure.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not my experience

        > the law in France states that the owner of an "insufficiently secured" network* is legally responsible of all the content that goes through it

        I've never been able to find a reference to the actual text. Care to enlighten please?

        1. Metrognome

          Re: Not my experience

          http://www.edri.org/files/Czech_BBA09_EN.pdf Bottom of page 3:

          "Persons are identified by their IP addresses, from which an unauthorized copyrighted material

          sharing is taking place. This gives responsibility to the connection owner and not necessarily the real wrongdoer. Under the law innocent victims, with insufficiently secured networks can

          be punished, such as public WiFi hotspot owners."

          HADOPI 2

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not my experience

      > I can honestly say that finding a wifi hotspot was rare and finding a free one near impossible. Most of the wifi were tied to a telco provider

      Exactly. So calling them "public" is a bit of a misnomer, since you have to either be a subscriber (directly or through a "partner") or pay a small fortune to get access.

      In reality, "courtesy" WiFi is pretty hard to come by in most places in France (and I know that country well, sadly :'( ) unless you are in a touristy area. Mind, it's not as bad as Spain, but a lot worse than Scandinavia, Central, and Eastern Europe.

  5. heyrick Silver badge

    WiFi in France

    From my experience - if you want open and useful public WiFi, find a McDonald's or a Buffalo Grill. The ones I have visited offer open WiFi that will let you connect simply by clicking the "I accept the terms" button and they'll (usually, not always) permit VPN.

    Avoid KFC. Any attempt to access an https site will throw weird certificates at you. I'm sure there's a canned excuse there, but basically it is a MITM that utterly compromises any semblance of security. VPN is blocked, as is, well, pretty much everything.

    More or less ALL Liveboxes of the v2 or later have the ability to act as a hotspot. The basis of how this works is that in order to have the right to connect to hotspots, you must provide a hotspot yourself. As a subscriber, you can sign in (provided you, yourself, provide a hotspot). Other networks? I think the hassles with the credits and such are so that if you email whitehouse.gov with a death threat to Obama, the telco can say "yeah, it was him wot did it", although given his approval ratings, maybe the Democrats would actually want somebody to conveniently deal with the issue. ;-) From some brief tests, the public AP provides a completely different IP address. It appears to be segregated from the home AP traffic (though, both use the same frequency). I have not conducted any tests on speed and quality of service. Orange assure me that public AP use won't impact my internet use, which I find hard to believe given that it is a 2mbit line, so anything over maybe 20-30K/sec when I'm downloading will be noticed. I have no problem with providing a public AP. I can barely receive WiFi in the next room because of the metre-plus-wide (!) stone walls, and the neighbours are, like, a mile away. The road is private and comes here only. So, hey, it's an access point for the bunnies and owls.

    That said, my Livebox runs at 2mbit down, about 700kbit up. If I walk outside and stand in the middle of a muddy field and wait for my phone to sync to 3G+, the result on SpeedTest is approx. 2.5mbit both ways. Well, maybe only one way at a time, but it can outpace the wired network however you look at it. EDGE, on the other hand, is supposed to run at an exciting 17K/sec (ish), but I don't know if my phone is crappy or if Orange is crappy, because when my phone reverts to EDGE, it frequently can't handle any sort of transmission unless I can practically see the mobile tower (and by then it will have kicked up to 3G+). Go figure.

    Anyway, this "you must be a public AP to have the right to use public APs" coupled with slipping this into a firmware update a year or two back and switching it on by default....this might explain why there are so many access points. I've seen Free and Neuf boxes offering logins to their subscribers upon connecting to them, so perhaps those companies do the same sort of thing?

    Just looked at the login page for my public AP - you can buy a WiFi pass if you are a non-subscriber, and this might be useful to some - BT Openzone customers can now use French Orange public APs - you need your Openzone username and password (same as in the UK). I've dropped a screenshot here (imgur).

  6. raving angry loony

    Links?

    Links to original source for such claims are always welcome in my books.

    So http://www.maravedis-bwa.com/en/ or http://www.ipass.com/Wi-Fi-growth-map/

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