Networking

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Finding wi-fi in the unlikeliest of places

Greetings from Turkey

Written on a 34-foot sailing boat docked in Selimiye, Marmaris, Turkey and despatched to silicon.com via a free wi-fi service provided by the Aurora Restaurant at more than 1Mbps.

For reasons that need no explanation, this week finds me on a 34-foot sailing boat in the Mediterranean traversing the coast of southern Turkey. Before I left the UK I checked out all my equipment and refreshed my brain on the process of getting online using my mobile and a fixed-line phone by practicing a couple of dial-up calls.

To be blunt I expected that getting online was going to be a big deal, and even more so when I arrived at a small marina in the very small village of Oryhaniye. Just for fun I decided to do a quick scan to make sure there wasn't a wi-fi signal available - but to my amazement there was and it provided 1Mbps access.

The amusing thing was that the owner of the marina, living on the first boat on the jetty, couldn't see the signal and had to walk to the bar to get online. But I could access it at the end of the pontoon and even the guy in a trimaran across the bay could get the signal. I think he needs to buy a better laptop!

A day later I was at a beautiful inlet called Paradise Bay, which sports moorings for a dozen boats or so, a really good restaurant, a tropical garden, toilets and cold showers but no phone line and certainly no wi-fi. The same was true of Lorymar/Bozuk Buku but with two additional restaurants and even more moorings!

At the next stop I found myself in the small coastal town of Bozborun, which seems to sport just about everything including a delightfully secluded harbour and a selection of shops and restaurants.

Not only did I find wi-fi access in Bozborun, there was also an internet café offering 8Mbps access and at least two restaurants offering fixed-line LAN access at 1Mbps and greater. All of this was at very reasonable prices or for free with a coffee or meal. Brilliant!

Today we were engulfed by a sudden storm with winds in excess of 24 knots and low visibility due to torrential rain. So we headed into Selimiye (in Marmaris) and tied up for the day. From offshore it looked promising! Using binoculars I could clearly see electricity and phone line distribution lines, and once tied up I could immediately access a wi-fi signal.

Now you have to use your imagination... I'm in a very Turkish restaurant and bar on the waterfront, typing to the theme music from The Godfather whilst the owner serenades the clientele and coffee, tea and Raki are being served. And of course the wi-fi is free. I'm just wryly amused - I really do get to do my email from the most unlikely of places for sure!

On this entire trip I have managed not to use my mobile and a fixed-line phone to get online. It now seems to be the case that if there is a phone line, there is wi-fi, and I have to actively search out places where there is neither. And guess what? For the most part there is always a mobile signal in these places.

So the big question in my mind is: what will fill the gap? How will the isolated dwellers be connected in future? And I don't mean villages, I mean singular homes and restaurants tucked away on islands and in coves, where the only way in and out is by boat or jeep, or those places in the countryside devoid of roads. If they can see a mobile phone signal it should be possible to get WiMax in there. But why bother?

This week I have seen boats and crews of all nations sailing these waters and enjoying a week or two of freedom. But all along the route there have been those hard-pressed individuals who have to conduct business and keep in contact while sailing - and they search out the hotspots. So exactly like the coffee shop model in the US, a new model is building here and people are heading to the hotspots as a matter of course. Clearly the money will follow the communication!

For a long time people have thought of the internet as something different, something apart from the mobile and fixed-line networks. But on one level at least I think it is the same! It is one of several vital communication arteries that people have to track down to get things done.

Many used to doubt wi-fi would be everywhere for business travellers - well now it seems to me it most certainly is. In fact, the number of wi-fi base stations greatly outnumbers the number of mobile phone towers - and the wi-fi network and number of users is growing faster.

About Peter Cochrane

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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