Friday, August 07, 2009


Coffee shop WiFi at risk

WSJA story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal caught my eye yesterday. It talks about the concerns that coffee shops are having about their internet access policies.

Many people set up temporary offices in places with public WiFi access and use the real estate for hours at a time for the cost of a cup of coffee.

I remember a decade ago advising a property management company on the risks associated with enabling free WiFi in their food court - a space that already had challenges providing sufficient seating. How would the business model work? It isn't the communications link that is expensive; the issue is the opportunity cost of a table that isn't generating revenue.

Is this the start of a serious trend to inhibit free access?

In the meantime, find a way to compensate the owners for use of their space - buy an extra sandwich or muffin and give it to that homeless person you passed on the way in.

I'm guessing from your comment that you've not been in a Starbucks lately. Using the Bell network Wi-Fi services they offer two hours a day free Wi-Fi, if you have a Starbucks card and use it to pay for your drink. Since I always use it to pay for the latte, my use is free. Of course, you can always pay for the wi-fi using a credit card at the Bell Hotspot, but I find using my Ipod for the free connection is a quick and easy wasy to go. Even the iPod applications store has an app called "Coffee shop" that helps you set up the account on the Bell Hotspot in Starbucks.

It's a good compromise that I like to use in the morning when I stop for my brekkie and coffee. You can't really set up the office for the day - but it's a great place to get your mail and check the news blogs.

I don't think the Wi-Fi is at risk as long as the coffee shop can come up with an alternatives like this. After all - right now lots of my local Bars are offering free-wi-fi to encourage folks to hang around. One of my local hangouts looks like a Remax office with all the real estate agents madly pecking away on their laptops and chatting on there cellphones.
What defines public wifi access?

I understand cracking a WPA/WEP key contravenes Radiocommunication Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. R-2, s.9(1)(c). But what about using "unprotected" access points or peer-to-peer wireless connections?

Searching "ssid" returns nothing at CanLII
To Josh0 -
From what you said - if you are using an unprotected Wi-Fi point - you are not having to enter a WEP or WAP pasword to access - so you are not cracking anything.
However, having said that - the unprotected Wi-Fi point is becoming rearer and rearer. Since the 802.11G APs started rolling out - the AP manufacturers have made it a part of the default setup to encrypt and protect the Wi-Fi points against cracking.
As for shoping malls - well taking a sniff around with a wi-fi sniffer finds dozens of secured wi-fi APs - but almost none unsecured. Generally these businesses get their services from an ISP and pay to have it secured. I have noticed even when TELUS installs their residential Wi-Fi these days - it is secured and locked down to prevent wardrivers from piggybacking on the service.
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