WhaleTech: 1G free WiFi a day from Telecom?

via raglan23.co.nz

via raglan23.co.nz

Yesterday I observed NBR’s Chris Keall getting excited like a little boy about Telecom’s Free WiFi at phone boxes scheme – WiFi Zone.  Repeated tweets, articles and even hurried corrections as his excitement got away on him and he had to adjust some of the fantastic numbers (3000 phone boxes with free WiFi?  No.)

The fact is, I didn’t realise why it was so exciting to Chris.  I’ve been walking and driving past the blasted things for about 6 months now.

Part of a pilot scheme, these have been deployed in parts of New Zealand where the tourists normally flock to.  But as you do when you live away from the bigger cities, you simply assume that they had it all first.

Not so.  And that’s the reason behind Chris’ excitement.

So I decided to pop down the road and see what is actually involved, and how they operate.  I happen to have a Nokia Lumia 920 I’m using right now (you’ll see some posts about that later), and locked on with the WiFi signal.  It asked me to enter my phone number, and it texted me a 4 letter code.  Once I typed it in, it was all go from there.  You’re allowed to use up to 1 GB of data per day that way, which is quite generous if you’re on a smartphone data plan and you need to push a big document up while on the road.

You don’t have to be a Telecom customer to use this service.  Signal strength is what you would expect from WiFi.  Telecom says it peters out after 80m under ideal conditions, so it pays to be relatively near to it.  They will let you register up to 5 “devices” to connect this against your mobile number.  It isn’t clear what happens when you register your 6th – will it refuse, or is the 1st device de-registered?

If you want to know if they are in your part of town, check out the map here.

How did it perform?  Very well.  The upload speed isn’t squeezed down as it is on home broadband connections, so for people who want to send a large file to head office while on the road, that could be a godsend.  Here’s the Speedtest result

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and just for comparison, here is the same handset on an N WiFi router on a Telecom 500G broadband plan

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As you can see, the download performance is comparable, whereas the upload speed is much better through the WiFi Zone.

Apart from freeloading tourists backpackers who are obviously going to be setting up camp near these phone boxes, I imagine these WiFi Zones will provide great “emergency” connections.  I remember not too long ago when people were driving around hoping to catch an open WiFi connection just to grab that essential bit of data.

The fact I’ve had one in my neighbourhood for 6 months and I haven’t seen the need to use it does rather point to them becoming useful when you are on the road.  Perhaps when your data plan is getting squeezed at the end of your billing period, these WiFi Zones will become like oases in digital deserts.

 


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  • sheppy

    Well done Telecom!

  • Saccharomyces

    I came across one of these in Queenstown last month, the small area that it was in was constantly packed, I thrashed the crap out of it too, great idea.

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