There is no doubt that one of the best innovations in air travel in recent years has been the addition of in-flight Wi-Fi. Not only does it help us to stay more productive, but it is a great way of staying in touch with friends and family, not to mention keeping entertained on a longer flight. Of course, if you’ve ever used wireless Internet while on a plane, you probably know that the quality of the connection varies widely, ranging from incredibly slow to impressively fast – especially considering you’re in a flying tube 30,000 feet above the ground. Now, Boeing is promising to make the experience a much more consistent one thanks to a new method of testing and optimizing the Wi-Fi signal strength in a plane.
Boeing’s new testing process arose from a set of existing proprietary tools that they already used to ensure radio signals from Wi-Fi didn’t interfere with the aircraft’s instrumentation. While using those tools they discovered that they could be fine tuned to help optimize the signal of the wireless router for greater efficiency. They also managed to cut the time for testing down from two weeks to just ten hours, significantly improving an engineers’ ability to improve wireless performance in a short amount of time.
What all of this means for you and I as travelers is that we’ll soon have a much more consistent and useful Wi-Fi connection on longer flights. In their press release touting this improvement, Boeing stated that even people getting up and moving about the cabin could have a detrimental effect on signal strength, but with this new method of testing, they were quickly and more efficiently able to tune the router for better performance, greatly limiting these issues. That’s something that we can all appreciate.
Now, if the airlines would just hurry up and get Wi-Fi working properly on more international flights, I’ll be one happy traveler.
Gogo’s jet-propelled test lab took flight yesterday with several reporters and one very important fin added to the underbelly of the plane.
On the quick flight across western Illinois, CTO Anand Chari showed off the significant speed increases and signal stability of their new ATG-4 (Air To Ground – 4) wireless system. Initially using the current ATG wireless, pages loaded slowly or timed out completely when a crowded plane was simulated. Switching to the new technology showed speeds reaching closer to the estimated max of 9.7 Mbps. When an additional 15 users were simulated on the plane, loading of pages slowed, but never stalled.
“This is a significant tech advancement,” said CEO Michael Small. “We can serve considerable larger number of passengers – over half the plane [before degradation of the service]. The sky is going to keep growing. We’re on a path to getting full service to a full plane of users.”
Streaming services like Hulu and Netflix are still too big of a burden for in-flight connectivity, but the company’s recent release of Gogo Vision offers a nice compromise – 100+ titles to watch streaming on your wireless device for $4.99 a movie or 99 cents a show.
Over 40 planes are already equipped with the ATG-4 technology, with Virgin, Delta and US Airways on board (launches for service on American Airlines and United are expected next year). The company plans to have over 500 planes equipped by the end of 2013.
How do you tell if your plane is equipped with the latest tech? If possible, look under the first third of the plane, near the door – if you can see two fins, the smaller will be the old ATG modem, and the larger will be the ATG-4. In addition, two directional antennae and a second modem will provide another clever bonus – by checking for signal in several directions, the plane will choose the strongest one to use, while the other keeps searching for the next best signal.
As a freelance writer without an office to call home, it was probably inevitable that I would become intimately familiar with the cafes in my neighborhood. Thankfully, the Lower East Side of New York City offers dozens of options, each with different atmospheres but all with great gourmet coffee and blazing fast Wi-Fi.
In recent months, I’ve fallen into a steady rotation of these establishments, with the selection of each day’s “office” based upon a careful calculation of that day’s assignments, my budget, food cravings, the weather and my mood. Do I have to hunker down with my laptop for the entire afternoon? Berkli Parc has tons of electrical outlets. Is it focus time? Bruschetteria’s free Wi-Fi has a block on social media sites. Do I feel like being transported to Mykonos for the afternoon? The white walls and open windows at Souvlaki GR do the trick.
Hopefully, this roundup of my favorite Lower East Side Wi-Fi cafes will assist you in finding the right spot for you.
Run by a UC-Berkeley alum, this cafe successfully invokes the laidback organic spirit of northern California … without all the tree huggers.
Pros: laptop-friendly, plentiful outlets, daily happy hour with $4 craft beers and $5 wines
Cons: pricy sandwiches, few breakfast options 63 Delancey Street
If you really need to focus, take advantage of Bruschetteria’s Internet ban on social media. Your deadlines will thank you.
Pros: super attentive staff, great natural light, $12.50 two-course lunch special with wine
Cons: very small, few outlets 92 Rivington Street
Feel like an escape? Head to popular gyro spot Souvlaki GR, where the white walls, pink bougainvillea and smell of grilled meat will instantly transport you to Mykonos.
Pros: unique atmosphere, delicious food
Cons: limited outlets, only coffee options are Nescafe and thick Greek “Elliniko” coffee 116 Stanton Street
Located under the trendy Thompson LES hotel, Konditori combines Swedish coffee tradition with a Brooklyn sensibility. The space is light and airy, if small.
Pros: opens early, delicious Swedish pastries
Cons: few tables, uncomfortable seating 182 Allen Street
A neighborhood anchor, 88 Orchard offers an extensive menu and two levels of seating, though the sunnier upper level is more suited to conversation than computers.
Pros: rustic atmosphere, locally-sourced food options
Cons: outlets only available on dim underground lower level, weekend no-laptop policy on upper level 88 Orchard Street
Spend enough time at D’espresso and you’ll see why it’s a neighborhood favorite. The coffee is on the pricier side, but the friendly staff makes up for it.
Pros: extensive beverage options, plentiful outlets, minimalist decor
Cons: high prices, no bathrooms, heavy foot traffic 100 Stanton Street
Founded more than a decade ago, Earthmatters is a true community hub, offering a place where people can gather, shop, eat, talk and yes, use the free Wi-Fi.
Pros: low prices, great community, large variety of organic and natural foods
Cons: laptops only allowed upstairs with minimum food purchase 177 Ludlow Street
Originally co-founded by Moby, Teany is one of the city’s best known vegan teahouses. Though it’s changed management multiple times over the past few years, it’s still a good bet for great tea, though the food and service can be hit-or-miss.
Pros: hundreds of tea varieties, outdoor seating
Cons: few outlets, inconsistent food and service 90 Rivington Street
Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop
Huge glass windows and a corner location make Tiny’s the perfect place for people watching when you need to take your eyes off your laptop.
Pros: great natural light, cheap coffee, inventive sandwiches
Cons: no outlets, hit-or-miss staff 129 Rivington Street
Technically over the “border” in the East Village, The Bean’s three new locations offer sunny window seats and free doggie biscuits for neighborhood canines.
Pros: friendly atmosphere, plentiful outlets, open late
Cons: always crowded, often difficult to find seating Three locations at 54 2nd Avenue, 147 1st Avenue, and 824 Broadway
It’s 45 degrees outside with a light rain and 40 mph winds and my wife is sitting in a doorway, huddled by her computer, teeth chattering, using a sketchy Wi-Fi signal a block from the Adriatic Sea in Polignano-A-Mare, Italy. My fingers are already numb from typing in the biting cold for two hours before she assumed command of our makeshift office, located right underneath a modem.
If you have the luxury of disconnecting from work while traveling and all you need to do is send and receive the occasional email, you’ll be just fine in Italy. But if you’re like us, and have to work while there and need a good, relatively fast Internet connection, you’re probably in for some of the same adventures we encountered.
Over the course of a five-week trip, mostly in small to medium sized cities all over Italy, staying in hotels and vacation rental apartments, we spent countless hours trying to make the most of tepid or non-existent connections. In unseasonably chilly Polignano-A-Mare, we realized the only true hotspot we had access to was in the doorway of the reception area for an apartment we rented; in Spoleto we had to sit literally in our windowsill to get a connection; in Parma I had to set up shop right on the front desk of the hotel; and in Lecce, we used an outdoor courtyard behind our apartment. What follows are some of the lessons we learned trying to get online in Italy.
Before you book a hotel or apartment rental, make your Internet needs abundantly clear. Many establishments offer what they call “Wi-Fi” but all they have is one modem somewhere in or near their establishment to service a number of rooms or apartments. Their “Wi-Fi” will allow you to check email but little else. When searching for places, make it very clear that you’re on a business trip – even if you aren’t – and tell them you need a place with consistent Wi-Fi.
Plenty of places will claim their Wi-Fi is just fine but some will be honest and tell you it’s fairly useless. I had one hotel manager in Parma respond to my inquiry about high-speed Internet with the following bluntly honest comment: “High-speed Internet?” he wrote. “There is no such thing in Italy.” I didn’t book with him, but I appreciated his honesty.
Don’t unpack until you check the signal. If Wi-Fi is important to you, check it in a few different spots in your room or apartment before you unpack. Speed varies wildly from one room to the next depending on the distance from the modem, thickness of the walls and other variables. Old, thick walls are a problem everywhere in Italy. Ask for a different room or apartment and see if the connection is better there.
If you’re traveling outside of the high season and think you’ll be spoiled for choice where you’re going, you might consider testing connections in person before committing to a place. But note that just because it’s working at the moment you try it, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work in ten minutes, two days or a week later. My normal M.O. if I’m staying in a place for more than a week is to book the first night or two in a hotel, then relocate to a rental apartment. It’s one thing to be disconnected for a day or two, but quite another to have no access for a week or more.
When I went out to look for apartments, I’d bring my laptop with me and test the connection. In a few cases, I ended up renting apartments with sketchy Internet anyway, because there were no better options, but at least I knew what I was getting into.
Accept that there is no magic stick that works all over the country. I did a lot of research on this topic and tried a few sticks in different parts of Italy to no avail. I wish I could tell you to buy a stick from TIM or WIND or one of the other providers you’ll see at mobile phone shops all over the country, but the truth is that these sticks aren’t any better than finding random Wi-Fi connections in cafés, hotels and other hotspots.
There is also no way to tell you which sticks work best in which parts of the country, unfortunately. One stick might work in one place, but right across the street it’ll have no signal. What I can tell you is that most mobile phone shops will allow you to experiment with these sticks, and if they don’t work, you can bring them back. I tried them a couple times in different places and had no luck at all, but your luck might be different depending on where you are. Some shops will rent them on a daily basis for as little as 4 euros per day – which, if they work, is a bargain. Give them the address you’ll be staying at, and ask them which one works best in that area.
Move about the cabin. This probably goes without saying, but it’s especially true in Italy. Grab your laptop or mobile device and just move around with it, you’ll be amazed how the signal can improve just by moving a few feet.
Hope your laptop battery is good. I spent a ton of time using Wi-Fi outdoors, away from power outlets in Italy. If you have an older battery that has lost a lot of its mojo, this might be an issue for you. If you don’t want to get a new one, consider bringing a long extension cord – it might come in handy for you.
Bring your own Ethernet cable. I stayed in lots of different places, but none offered cables. Your speed will improve dramatically if you can plug into a modem. Obviously, this isn’t always going to be possible, depending on the setup, but in some cases it is. Bring a long cord because you never know what the situation will be.
Wi-Fi awards. I stayed in lots of different places all over the country but encountered just two places that had commendable Internet connections. Three cheers for the beautiful, brand new Santa Croce hotel in Lecce, and the Residence Perugia Chocolate in Perugia.
Don’t forget your sense of humor. You’ll find all kinds of businesses offering Wi-Fi in Italy, but very few have unsecured connections. Ask them for their password and keep track of which establishment has the most ridiculous one. I don’t know why, but nearly everyone in Italy has an absurdly long, complex password. I had a wine bar in Spoleto hand me a Wi-Fi password that had more than 30 characters! I didn’t bother using it, but I had a good laugh.
According to a report released by ISTAT, Italy‘s official statistics bureau, only 54.5% of Italians have access to the Internet, and 26.7% of Italians think the Internet is “useless” and “uninteresting”.
It follows, then, that it’s damn near impossible for tourists to access the Internet in Italy’s capital city. Though cafes are ubiquitous, there are few with free WiFi, fewer with available electrical outlets, and only a handful with baristas that don’t give you dirty looks after thirty minutes of web surfing.
Thankfully, the city is taking steps toward a more connected capital with its Roma Wireless program, which offers free WiFi hotspots throughout Rome. There’s a catch, though: the free WiFi service is only available to individuals with a valid Italian cellular phone number. It’s well worth the effort to obtain an Italian SIM card if connectivity is important and your stay is longer than a few days.
The first step is to visit a local mobile provider. TIM, Italy’s largest, has offices throughout central Rome, including one on Via del Corso and one in Piazza dei Cinquecento near the Termini main train station. A new SIM card costs 10 euro, with 5 euro of included credit, and you’ll need your passport to register for a TIM account.
Once you have your new number, just visit a hotspot, plug your number into the registration page that pops up, wait for a confirmation text message, and get one hour of free WiFi per day. Any more, and you’ll have to face the wrath of the barista.