Since I love my wife, I said, “Yes honey, I’ll come as a school trip chaperone with you — and 30 other teenagers!” Before you think that AP microwave radiation is affecting my brain again, this blog really has to do with public Wi-Fi, ease of access, the non-need for captive portals and the bottom line of why it’s important to think of the customer first when it comes to Wi-Fi. Plus, a little heartburn is included at no extra charge! Grab your bottle of Rolaids and join me on this MiniBlog about public Wi-Fi.
We left for Universal Studio’s Rock the Universe concert as adult sponsors on a Saturday afternoon with a bus full of teenagers ready for a late night party! Universal Orlando holds this annual Christian music festival and thousands of teens come out to hear great music with a positive message and hop on rides until 1 AM the next morning — just about the time when the adults are tired and the teens are wired! It really is an incredible night as the right message is communicated through music to the ears of young people that hear so much wrong today. Thanks Universal! But I digress…the Wi-Fi story is coming!
Our daughter is off to college, but her favorite band was playing that evening (shout out to Switchfoot!), so we thought we would surprise her by getting an autographed band poster. As we waited in line, it was time to check out the Wi-Fi. First off, I see three open SSIDs — one of them having the number “9934” in it (I checked the MAC addresses and all the virtual BSSIDs were from the same AP). Hmmmm…interesting. So, I chose the SSID “Universal” and connected, firing up my mobile device VPN (you do use a VPN on your mobile devices when on open public Wi-Fi, right?). My device did not authenticate to the VPN server, so I switched remote ports (several times) and still no connection. I turned off the VPN and opened a web page to check connectivity and am greeted by–you guessed it–a captive portal.
Ah, but this was no simple “check the terms and conditions” captive portal, oh no! Here is everything I had to do to get “free public Wi-Fi”:
- Check a box for agreeing to the terms and conditions
- Check a box that I was over 18 years of age
- Enter an email address for the captive portal to email me a password
- Enter the email and password on the captive portal page and hit “Submit”
- Lastly, the hard part — I had to answer my wife’s question, “Why does Universal make it so hard to get on their free Wi-Fi?” (BEGIN: Heartburn and search for Rolaids….)
So, what did I do? I went to Settings on my Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, turned OFF Wi-Fi, and checked out my Twitter feeds on 4G LTE (which worked really well, thank you, without having to check a box to accept terms and conditions).
(END: Heartburn conditions and begin heartburn recovery process.)
What have we all just seen in this real life scenario? Here’s an Orlando vacation theme park, full of visitors from all around the world, who want (and need) Wi-Fi that should be free and easy to use. Instead, Universal makes it very difficult (yes, even for this WLAN professional) to access the park-provided Wi-Fi network. To remedy this, Universal should:
- Have have only ONE easy to recognize guest SSID and advertise this on signs or the brochure that is handed out upon park entry
- Do away with the captive portal to make it easier for guests to get online
- Be sure that the Wi-Fi speed is adequate for users and not throttled so low that it’s not useable (I could not even check speeds as I refused to go through all these steps to even access their Wi-Fi)
There are lots of blogs out on the web about public Wi-Fi and why it needs to be simple and easy. Keith Parsons has a great blog on this subject and I blogged within the past year that simple and secure public Wi-Fi should be the norm. But unfortunately, it isn’t. It is interesting to note that just a stone’s throw west of Universal, Disney World is putting the customer first as they have completely eliminated captive portals and provide really good wireless speeds.
Speaking of customers, I bought this sign when I began my work in IT seventeen years ago and have it mounted in my office. Businesses need to “Take Care Of The Customer” by putting their needs first as Wi-Fi connectivity is simply expected today when we go out to shop, eat or vacation. Business leaders everywhere need to be sure that customers have fast, free, and easy Wi-Fi at their places of business.
Universal Studios Orlando, thank you again for hosting Rock the Universe 2014, allowing a positive message to be heard by our teenagers! However, please seriously consider making your Wi-Fi access easy and simple — it can and should be done. Your patrons (including this WLAN professional, undergoing heartburn recovery….) will thank you!