Sunday, 24 January 2010

WIfi Hassles

I've become an iPod bore. It's sad but true. I have a slightly obsessive nature so that the instant I get something that is new and techie such as the iPod Touch I have to find out all that I can about it to make it the most effective gadget it can be. I do have limits to what I will do though. I'm not interested in "jail breaking" the Touch. That's the process of hacking the machine so that you can install non Apple approved software. Ok, I'll admit it, there is a bit of interest. As an inveterate tinkerer I love messing around with bits of hardware and software. My usual machines of choice for this though are old cast off pcs that have cost me nothing and not nice shiny new gizmos. The thought of invalidating my warranty and then installing dodgy software is more than I can stand to risk. Call me an old scaredy cat, I don't care.

So, at the moment, I'm quite passionate about the Touch and want to talk about all the things I can make it do. However, it'd be fair to say that the majority of people around me don't share that enthusiasm. I can see that forced smile come over their lips and the glaze drop over their eyes. So, since no one reads my blog I can vent my zeal here and describe some of the tricks and tips that I've discovered on this wee thing. For those that may happen to read my blog I will apologise now as the iPod entries may push me even further into the sphere of geekdom. I've been encouraged to do this by talking to people that have one but don't know how to use it. Perhaps they'll stumble across the blog and get some useful pointers. Maybe I will even direct them to it.

Ok, first thing to address that one of my friends highlighted as an issue was connecting to the Internet. His home is connected through cabled LAN. This means that without wifi at home he and his wife couldn't connect up their pods (Although that’s not strictly true as I will point out in a future blog.) They had tried various coffee shops purporting free wifi access; they would open up their browser and then nothing. When they tried to connect through the settings, nothing again. I haven't got my hands on their Pods but for the sake of this blog I'm going to assume that there is nothing wrong with the hardware. The fact that they both have identical machines and are both experiencing difficulties makes me think that it’s not likely that there is a hardware fault.

First thing you need to do is find a signal. If you have the wifi optio "Ask to Join Networks" switched on in your settings then it should automatically do this for you. You can also do this manually through the wifi option in settings. Selecting wifi will give u a list of available networks; those that are locked will require a password. I myself tend to use an app called WifiTrak. From where I am sitting now the inbuilt wifi software in ‘settings’ picks up five networks, WifiTrak picks up nine. My friend’s frustration was that he couldn't even connect to such networks as Bt Openzone when in and around town, and so in the spirit of investigation I took my Ipod Touch into Birmingham City Centre to investigate the situation.

Bt Openzone is virtually ubiquitous. I could pick it up nearly everywhere in the city centre let alone Bearwood and most places that I go. They now have a system whereby companies and individuals signing up to BT are encouraged/forced to provide a portion of their bandwidth for hotspot access. This can show up as BT Fon on the network. They are installing hotspots in Starbucks, cash machines and all over the place. Where the signal was strong enough when I selected Bt Openzone and then opened my browser a log in page appeared. This also happened for the less prevalent Cloud network when I was in the Bullring. I also kept picking up free-Birminghamfiz network. This apparently is a free utility whereby you can access a lot of information and services relating to Birmingham council through the BT Openzone network. I didn't know what it was and couldn't get it to work but I shall try again next time. Here is the URL for the info:

To use BT Openzone access points you need to have credit with them. There are various deals but the most tempting is 500 minutes for £5 with a 12 month tie in. For around £6 you can buy a 90 non-consecutive minutes ticket and I might do this to test it out. There are a couple of factors though that put me off the deal. One is that I quite like the thrill of hunting and finding access points that for some reason haven't been locked off. I've recently accessed the Internet in several places walking down the street, sitting in the swimming baths, the bus shelter on Bearwood high street and earlier today in Clarks shoe shop on New Street. I find this slightly illicit access of the Internet appealing in the sense that its a bit naughty but doesn't do any real harm. Like shoplifting from Tesco.

So there are free access points out there, its just knowing where they are. In terms of the City Centre McDonalds has recently announced that they will be providing free wifi in their restaurants (I'm not convinced that's the correct term for these eateries). I quite like Mcdonalds coffee and could happily sit in there with one of their cheaper than Starbucks injections of caffeine and use their free Internet access. It might even be possible to lurk outside and do the same, leeching off the signal if it’s strong enough. It will depend on the deal; you may have to ask for a logon code when you purchase your food.

Anyway the basic process is, for unlocked signals:

1. Scan for a signal
2. Select the network
3. Connect
4. If successful then browse away.

For something like BT Openzone, if the signal is strong enough, you should just have to open your browser and wait for the log on screen to appear and then enter your access codes if you have bought them. One point that has crossed my mind is that if I do buy Openzone time I will possibly select to forget that network each time I disconnect. This may be a bit of a pain but I'd be annoyed if my iPod connects automatically without me knowing and I use up my time that way. It might be that I have to log on each time anyway through the initial page and I'm just being over cautious. I'll find out if I opt in to the scheme.

I know that it's not always this simple but with some trial and error it's not going to be impossible to work out. It might be that the signal that you're trying to log onto isn't strong enough to allow access and this is the issue. It's easier to judge this with WifiTrak as it gives you an indication of signal strength. I've not had much success unless the signal has registered -80 or more. Keep on trying and if there are any questions then feel free to post them on the blog and I will see what I can do.

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