More hotels, coffee shops, and other locations in the United States are providing “high speed” WiFi Internet access for customers, guests and visitors. Often such access is provided free, but it is also common (especially in airports I’ve noticed) to only have commercial / paid WiFi access available. Just as all transportation options are not equal (a shuttle bus may take you an hour to reach your destination, while a direct taxi ride may take only 15 minutes) WiFi Internet access options are certainly not created equal either. I’ve stayed in hotels (in Austin during TCEA) where the available “high speed” Internet bandwidth was slower than a 14.4 baud modem— downstream. I hope as Internet access options continue to grow in the months and years ahead, we’ll see providers give more details about what THEIR “high speed” Internet access really means: i.e. what is their currently available upstream and downstream bandwidth for users. This should be available whether the WiFi or other Internet access is provided “free” or for a fee.

Now that I have my own cell phone data card (I am able to BYOB – bring your own bandwidth) I often have a choice when it comes to mobile Internet access. Should I use the cell phone network Internet connectivity which I’m already paying for each month, or a locally provided free or commercial WiFi connection? This weekend, we are camping at Tuttle Creek State Park in Kansas. I’m not planning on spending a ton of time online, but there are a few things I want to do, including publish a new podcast. Being out by the lake and outside of major towns, the available cell phone coverage here is marginal. The following graph (from Internet Frog Speed Test) shows the available downstream and upstream bandwidth here on the cell phone data network:

Cell phone network data bandwidth at River Pond

Bandwidth this slow is OK for email checking and sending on a device like an iPhone, but NOT acceptable for anything requiring much file uploading, like podcast publishing. For this reason, I opted to pay $5 for the day and use the locally provided Internet access here in the campground from KansasNet. As you can see, the bandwidth (especially upstream) provided by this WiFi connection is MUCH, MUCH faster than what is available on the cell phone data network here today:

WiFi bandwidth at River Pond

Unfortunately, I was not able to conduct this test until AFTER I paid my $5 to connect to the WiFi service. I have not seen this before, but I think providers like KansasNet should show updated bandwidth data (upstream and downstream) on their service sign-up page, to help users like me decide whether or not it is worth it to purchase their Internet access service. The cell phone data bandwidth was SO slow here, I was pretty sure it would be worth the money to pay for a day’s WiFi connection, and that turned out to be correct. It would be nice to have this bandwidth information in advance, however, BEFORE making an Internet access purchasing decision.

On a related note, I was pleased to learn AT&T is offering free WiFi access for iPhone owners on all AT&T WiFi hotspots (including all Starbucks locations) starting on May 1st this year. This is VERY handy. I’ll be using that free data connection quite a bit in the months ahead I’m sure. 🙂

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