In Search of Wireless Europe

helen on the train

Helen Varley Jamieson, 2003

10 June 2003
In just over a week, I'm leaving NZ for four and a half months in Europe. Aside from the lists of things to remember to take, things to do before I go, and dithering over whether to buy a Eurrail pass or not, the big question is "How am I going to get online on the road in Europe?"

I've recently had an airport card installed in my trusty little iBook, and have briefly experimented with it so I know that it works. But what will I need to do, and where will I need to be, to pick up signals around Europe?

Searching the web has yielded some useful sites but there doesn't seem to be one handy site to go to for everything I need. You'd think there would be a commercial demand for wireless pan-Europe internet access. It looks like many of the airports have hotspots, but it's still hard to believe - until I've actually experienced it - that I will be able to get online in strange places without complicated configurations and secret digital handshakes. And I won't be spending any more time at airports than I absolutely have to!

So far, I've bookmarked these sites as looking useful:

Watch this space to see how I get on ...

This journey was funded in part by a grant from Creative New Zealand - thanks!

At Heathrow19 June
I'm sitting in the departure lounge at Heathrow, tired from the long-haul flights, but excited because i'm online! I'm using BTopenzone; at £6 an hour it's excessively expensive, but the main thing is, it's working. After failing miserably in my mission to post a humble postcard at both Sydney Airport and Heathrow, I wasn't holding out much hope for getting online, but there you go: sometimes things really do work as they promise.

23 June
I'm not sure when I'll be able to upload this entry, because getting online in Belgrade hasn't been as simple as at Heathrow. I've entered Jelena's dial-up settings into my laptop, and even managed to hear a person answer the phone with one of the numbers we were trying, but it won't connect to the internet : ( and I don't know of any wireless hotspots here. Anyway it's too hot to be online.

Infant25 June
Novi Sad has a different kind of heat to Belgrade - less dusty but just as oppressive. Vruca. The INFANT Festival has begun and at the university my laptop slipped onto the ethernet connection without any problems. We are busy installing the text2speech plugin onto 10 computers for my workshop this afternoon. There are no wireless networks in the vicinity of Hotel Voyvodina, where I am staying, and I haven't spotted an internet cafe yet.

Exit Festival, Novi Sad8 July
Back in Belgrade, & Jelena's dial-up is working : ) (it helps if you enter the complete phone number ... ). I've been trying to find a sniffer application that works on Mac OS9 but they all seem to be for OSX ... another site of interest is warchalking, which recommends Kismac for sniffing & stumbling, but guess what, it's only for OSX ... : (

24 July
The heat has broken and a full-on thunder and lightning storm is buffeting the caravan where I am staying, in Vinderup, Denmark. A small river is developing behind the fridge in the awning - I've moved the power cords and plugs out of it but it's a little worrying ... of course there is no wireless internet in this remote spot (the north-west coast of Jutland) but I can dial-up (thanks Antonella!) from the camping ground office (thanks Inge!).

Vinderup performance

7 August
It's hot everywhere in Europe right now, so I'll stop complaining. In Amsterdam, I plugged into ethernet connections at Brenda's home and at her work without any problems, although wireless refused to work at the office. But I'm connected so I'm happy! And I'm emotionally preparing myself to upgrade to OSX (while staying with Brenda the Mac guru) so then maybe I can use some of that sniffer software ...

18 August
In Munchen, dialing up with no problems from Karin & Biggi's house and trawling the web I'm finding lots of information about wireless networks and hotspots ... it feels like it should be possible but nothing is quite close enough, and of course it's all in German ... & I didn't get round to doing my system upgrade in Amsterdam - too preoccupied with life.

next5minutes13 September
Success! I'm coming to you live and wireless from a grungy basement in Amsterdam - the Tool Builders' Fair at Next5Minutes, listening to presentations of Dyne:bolic by developer Jaromil and StreamStudio by developer Stoyan.

I'm feeling very aware of the limits of my technical knowledge but taking in as much as I can, and very happy to be wirelessly connected without any problems - at last!

1 October
It's great to be back in Belgrade; I'm rehearsing online for the next performance of "swim", this time in Ljubljana at the Mesto Zensk (City of Women) Festival on 14 October, and also working on it with Jadranka and Antonella. Strange things happened with the broadband connection through CybeRex - I'm online but not able to access web or chat, and no, it's not a proxy server thing. Commercial wireless networks exist in Belgrade, but they're expensive. After having lunch with the feminists, who have information for me about other broadband options, I have negotiated to use a connection at the Autonomous Women's Centre for the rest of my rehearsals.

Postojnske Jame12 October
In a hotel room in Ljubljana, Slovenia, rehearsing for our performance of "swim" on Tuesday; the hotel said it wasn't possible to access the internet from our rooms, but with a little help from Trudy and volja.net, I've achieved it. Haven't found any wireless network here yet but the ethernet at Galerija Kapelica and Kiber Pipa is good; I was even able to go into the gallery at 5.30am this morning to join Vicki in Sydney at Plaything (& Karla online).

20 October
Back in London, connecting (broadband) is not the problem but my power supply is dead. I'd just like Apple to know that this is the second time this has happened in a year, & I'm pissed off that it's so difficult to locate a new one - even though it's only two years old, it's not being made anymore. Why must we tolerate built-in obsolesence that is designed to force us into buying new computers? Why make a completely sealed unit when you could put in a couple of screws & it would be repairable?

28 October
There is Eurospot access at Paddington Station - but as I'm on a train that's about to leave, it's not worth plugging in the credit card details. I will entertain myself by watching the signal level fluctuate and see how far out of the station it goes.

9 November
gardenMy journey is over and I'm back in Wellington. On my return flight, I had a great (but short) time at Singapore Airport, where there are free internet kiosks as well as a PC centre where you can pay for wireless access or simply plug into a free ethernet connection and do whatever you want. Sydney Airport is less well-equipped, with only those stupid Samsung kiosks where so much functionality is disabled the system is rendered almost useless. For example, it lets me see my email inbox, but won't open new browser windows so I can't actually read my mail. Frustrating! I detected three wireless networks in the building, but none were open.

So to conclude: my fantasies of being able to connect wirelessly around Europe have largely remained just that, fantasies. It's coming, but slowly. What I'd like to find for my next trip is a mobile phone company who can give me one phone, one number and internet access across all of Europe. Any takers???

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