Mobile working? So where on earth is wi-fi heaven?

We all know that dense and open wi-fi can work wonders for the effectiveness of mobile workers. But the likely location of the world's wi-fi capital might raise a few eyebrows.

Written on the Baltic and dispatched within an hour from a coffee shop via a free wi-fi service at 3.4Mbps.

Wherever I travel, I check out the IT infrastructure and access. So I regularly note and photograph the number of wireless towers, power pylon pseudo-towers, rooftop installations, hubs and other access points.

At the same time I perform scans of spectral density, 3G availability and observe the communication activity of the population in general.

Needless to say, I get some surprises in terms of engineering approaches, coverage, activity, and population engagement. For example, some networks look as if they were installed using string and sealing wax, while others are engineered like a battleship.

Some populations are biased toward either 3G or wi-fi, some dominated by laptops and tablets, while others show a predominance of smartphones.

This morning I am in Tallinn, Estonia, and have discovered the highest density of wi-fi that I have encountered anywhere on the planet. Most of the networks are locked down and password-protected, but there seems to be unlocked access available no matter where I am.

The bit rates available are bi-directional - equal download and upload - at less than 10Mbps. The network also exhibits some evidence of bursty and chaotic action, but I have always been able to connect with latencies that are acceptable. There also appears to be good 3G coverage in the city.

Tallinn might not have the fastest wi-fi access in the world, but in my experience it appears to be the most prolific and the most open. I have never seen a wi-fi spectrum as dense as that found in the Estonian capital:

A Tallinn wi-fi hotspot shows why the city is so good for mobile working. Image: Peter Cochrane/TechRepublic

Working here is a delight. Just open your laptop lid and you are good to go. What a blessing - no searching, no log-on torture and no restrictions. This place is close to mobile heaven and has increased my work output a few percentage points by just eradicating the time it normally takes to get connected.

This view is not a scientifically substantiated fact, but on the basis of my continually sampling mobile access country by country, Tallinn might just be the wi-fi capital of the world.

The only place I have been that comes close to this level of coverage is Woods Hole, Cape Cod, MA, where the community set up a private company and fibred up the whole town, making open wi-fi the norm. I enjoyed working there too.


Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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