In a park? Or a mall? Chances are, the Internet will find you!
(Caption: No, it's not Batman, but actually a Wi-Fi bat logo. Peter Vogel writes about the Wi-Fi Internet revolution, and how you can find the web in many spots in the Lower Mainland. Photo credit: brandsoftheworld.com)
Several years ago a fellow parishioner introduced me to what was then a rather utopian vision, a system of numerous, distributed free, wifi hotspots.
That parishioner, Paul Chevalier, was certain that the entire Lower Mainland would be covered in short order with these hotspots. He noted that they would be free to customers of cable TV supplier Shaw Communications.
I was skeptical, and Mr. Chevalier's "entire Lower Mainland" prediction remains unfulfilled, but I have to say that I'm increasingly impressed with just how nearly ubiquitous the service has become.
When Mr. Chevalier first piqued my curiosity in the Shaw wifi venture, I could only find a handful of hotspots in my Tri-cities area. Furthermore, I had imagined, incorrectly, that these hotspots would all be on tall buildings and have a wide reach of, say, several blocks.
That isn't how the Shaw model played out. The company's hotspots have relatively low power transmitters that generally cover small commercial areas. Some of these may be clustered to serve perhaps an entire shopping mall.
Most are indoor, although there are a few outdoor venues: the city of Coquitlam has struck a deal with Shaw to bring the service to parks and municipal buildings.
Recently, on a Saturday morning, I had to be in a doctor's office, a medical lab, and a mall. All three were in different municipalities, and I found that the Shaw service was available in each one.
That made for productive time in the first two, and in the mall it offered a distraction while my wife shopped for shoes.
What is most appealing about the Shaw service, nowadays branded Shaw Go WiFi, is that a device needs only to be registered one time. From that point on the device will auto-connect whenever it is within range of one of the hotspots.
Typical home use Shaw TV and Internet accounts permit the registration of up to 10 devices for the free wifi service. In my case nearly all of those spots are taken.
Even if you have one of the lower speed Internet packages that provides access for up to three devices, additional devices can be connected. However they require a manual login each time rather than auto-connecting.
Take the case of a cell phone for example. Once it is registered, through the Shaw customer account web site, it will auto-connect any time it encounters a Shaw Go WiFi transmitter if its wifi receiver is turned on.
Occasionally I have encountered an authentication error when walking into my local mall, but a forced retry has always cleared that error. Some corners of the bigger department stores don't pull in the Shaw signals, in my experience.
In recent weeks Shaw has ramped up promotion of its Go WiFi service. Some may have noticed that the number of hotspots referred to in the company's radio commercials has rapidly climbed from 25,000 to more than 40,000 as of mid September.
To be sure, this number is not the total for the Lower Mainland. It represents the company's service spread across several provinces. Most of these hotspots are located in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg.
Many tend to be in locations where people convene, such as coffee shops and hairdressers.
It seems that Shaw's Go Wifi service is dense enough in the Greater Vancouver and Victoria areas that some users have found they can eliminate their cell phone data plans altogether.
Presumably the number of hotspots for the Shaw service will continue to grow. They represent part of the beachhead in the battle for subscribers between the two biggest TV and Internet providers here in western Canada.
That would be Shaw with its cable service and Telus with its Optik TV brand and ADSL service.
As for my fellow parishioner, well he remains an avid user of those free Shaw hotspots. He hasn't yet been tempted to switch to the newly installed Telus fibre optic line in his building. That would mean an end to his use of the free wifi.