Disconnected in Auckland | May 4, 2008

Hey sports racers. I’m in Auckland at the moment, on the second leg of my world tour and feeling decidedly disconnected. I’m not sure if it’s just bad luck but I’ve been having WiFi nightmares down under.

Like most chain hotels the Internet connection in my room isn’t free. Unfortunately the Internet connection in my room also isn’t working. So I grabbed my laptop and headed out to find a cafe with free WiFi. A scribbled note in the guide book I borrowed from Simon and Nat indicated that the cafe across the street had a free connection. Sadly the Wifi was no longer free and also no longer working.

I tried two or three cafes but the so called “Fast Internet Broadband” was neither fast or particularly board. At Cafe Melba I was forced to register my details before I was allowed the honour of paying them my money and pretty much all of them charged. The networks I did pay for were incredibly slow and much to my surprise charged for data transfer as well as time. So collecting email was fine but uploading my pics to Flickr was a no-no.

I did find one place called Mecca which proudly exclaimed that their WiFi was free. Sadly the network was password protected and none of the staff new what the password was or could be bothered to find out. So despite trying as hard as I can to support local small businesses I’ve found myself back at Starbucks who seem to have the only reliable net connection in town, despite being over twice as expensive as everybody else.

I do have one last tip off. Apparently the traders of Parnell Road have all clubbed together to offer street wide free WiFi. It’s a bit of a walk out of town, especially when it’s raining as it has been the last couple of days. But I may try to make one last sortie out there tomorrow in search of the mythical free connection.

Now I deeply object to paying for WiFi. First off I know that by it’s nature WiFi doesn’t cost much. The charges come from setting up a billing system, offering technical support and then skimming a profit off the top. The bigger problem is that it leads to a really bad customer experience. Instead of being permanently connected and being able to check your emails or Twitter whenever you want, you’re forced to meter your usage. Logging off whenever your activity goes quiet to conserve those precious minutes.

It reminds me of the dark ages of dial up and feels like internet rationing. I’m sure when I tell my children about the old days when you had to conserve your Internet usage they will roll their eyes and say “Oh daddy, don’t be so silly, the Internet doesn’t cost money!”

I don’t know if I’m spoilt and this is the norm, but Brighton is literally dripping in free wifi thanks to the lovely chaps at Loose Connection. Similarly most of the US cities I visit have plenty of free wifi cafes and some of them even have free municipal connections. Even Singapore airport offers a free net connection to all it’s travellers.

I do think in this day and age WiFi should be offered as a free service to cafe patrons, much the same way as they offer free newspapers or use of the washroom. WiFi is extremely easy to set up and by it’s very nature wants to be free. You have to go out of your way to lock it down and start charging for it.

I imagine that the cafes don’t make any money out of this. Instead a salesman from a big telecom company has come round and offered them free kit in exchange for the opportunity to fleece their customers. On the surface this sounds like a good deal, but you’d get much more custom and generate much better feelings if you simply set up your own WiFi router and opened it up to the public. I know that I frequent cafes and bars that offer free WiFi much more regularly than other establishments, even when I’m not looking to ‘log on’. And I would have been there every day for breakfast and lunch if just one cafe in Auckland offered a free connection, instead of being continuously disappointed.

I’m heading to Wellington and Christchurch next, before hopping over to Melbourne, so if you can recommend a nice cafe with free WiFi in any of those places, please let me know.

Posted at May 4, 2008 10:28 PM


EFL Geek said on May 4, 2008 11:40 PM

It’s wifi and broadband issues that keep me from returning to live in Canada. Here in Korea broadband is cheap $35 for 100mb/s connections (up and down) and free wifi is pretty common. If you want to pay for wibro (broadband wifi) it’s available city wide, though I haven’t checked into it since I don’t really need it.

I agree that coffee shops and other similar establishments should offer free wifi - it doesn’t cost them any extra to offer it and will result in more return customers.

Mark Hibberd said on May 4, 2008 11:44 PM

I feel your pain, I live in australia, where any mention of free wireless is seen as absurd.

However in slight defense of some of the cafes etc… I know there has been a few problems with respect to accountability. Where business owners are forced to pay for the expensive logging and billing software whether they are charging for the wireless or not. This is all due to a few incidents where people have used free hotspots for something illegal and the cops have come down on the owners of the hotspot.

Chris Vincent said on May 4, 2008 11:57 PM

Welcome to our Australia, a place where we are free to be social without needing technology 24 hours of the day. To be honest, you’ll find that it’s more of an attraction for people to take a pen and pad with them to meetings than using their phone/laptop all the time ;)

Kurt said on May 5, 2008 12:17 AM

Welcome to New Zealand, free wi-fi is pretty hard to come by here.

sue said on May 5, 2008 2:24 AM

welcome to New Zealand
but we do have kiwis, and penguins, and tash

Stuart Frisby said on May 5, 2008 3:30 AM

If you’re in the starbuks on Queens Street near the sky tower, you can pick up free open wifi from the second floor, not particularly fast, but it is free and non-protected.

I had the same problems all over NZ, the only places I ever found wifi were the places I least expected to have it, not that that helps you particularly!

good luck

Natalie Buxton said on May 5, 2008 6:09 AM

hahahahaha. Sorry, I literally was laughing when I saw you expect free internet at cafes (or anywhere) in Australia or New Zealand. Not at you, but at our tyrannical ISPs.

Being the most remote countries in the world, our ISPs think this means they can dupe us into paying through the nose for a product that doesn’t have any import costs associated with it.

WiFi can be gotten free here in Melbourne in the foodhall basement in Australia on Collins (Collins Street, near Elizabeth Street). Every table has a little card with the network details and password.

Other than that, you can go to Mag Nation = cosier and warmer (Elizabeth Street, near Collins again) where they serve coffee, let you read all their magazines and newspapers for nothing, and will serve you lovely coffee with your free internet and magazines. You can even plug into their power points!

These are the only truely free WiFi places I know of.

And I’ve been looking for ages.

brothercake said on May 5, 2008 7:27 AM

In Melbourne: there’s free Wifi at Joe’s Garage on Brunswick Street, which is a nice little coffee shop right in the middle of a very trendy shopping district. There’s also cheap ($2 unlimited) Wifi at E55 on Elizabeth Street - which is just across the road from MagNation, but IMO a more chilled place to hang out.

You could also hang at the coffee shop across the road from the SitePoint offices - our Wifi extends out that far, and I’m sure you can persuade one of us to let you have the password :)

Andrew said on May 5, 2008 8:05 AM

Its not a cafe, but the Twisted Hop micro-brewery and pub in Christchurch (tucked away in Poplar Tce) has free wifi i believe. The local Python Users Group meets there on friday afternoons.

Surprisingly some cinemas (such as Hoyts in Westfield Riccarton) have free WiFi. Hope this helps

Philip Renich said on May 5, 2008 10:58 AM

Yes, Andy, I must add my voice to the rest of us down here in the Southern Hemisphere. Free wifi? Uh, at my flat, sure. Telecommunications in New Zealand costs an arm and a leg. I pay a huge sum, compared to when I live in America, for just enough bandwidth that if I’m very careful I won’t use my allotment each month.

As to your problem, I would hope Wellington would be okay, but I only got free wifi there at Webstock. In Christchurch I haven’t heard of any free wifi places. Andrew (comment above) mentions Westfield mall. They no longer have free wifi, as of very recent (Went down a couple weeks ago and was saddened).

I would advise you either attempt (and good luck) finding an Internet cafe which looks kindly on laptops or stop by my flat in Christchurch ;-)

When are you coming down south? I may be around, shoot an email if you need anything, I’ll see what I can do.

Be sure to get out of the cities and explore!

Kurt said on May 6, 2008 2:24 AM

Riccarton Hoyts still has wi-fi but you may need a Telecom account number. Was in there on Friday using it but can’t remember if my iPhone remembered our username and password from the last time I was there or it was as an anonymous user. There’s a Starbucks below it if that doesn’t work.

Philip Renich said on May 6, 2008 4:04 AM

@Kurt, odd, the people at the ticket counter said it was down and wouldn’t be coming back. You could see it, but not gain an IP. It was free though so maybe now they’ve worked a deal with Telecom - unless you were picking up the Starbucks’ wifi from below which uses Telecom.

In any case Andy, good luck ;-)

Wardy said on May 6, 2008 5:06 AM

Just arrived in NZ having spent two years in Korea (difficult to find a place where you CAN’T get on WiFi). You can imagine my disdain…

Simone said on May 9, 2008 9:51 AM

Hi Andy! Looking forward to your workshop on Monday. Day off work is all good! I have never tried but the library in town is meant to have free wifi (with restrictions) http://library.christchurch.org.nz/Services/Wireless/

There is a starbucks close aswell. However their long blacks always leave me disappointed. :( Hanging out for central library to get a cafe.

Nick Cowie said on May 16, 2008 9:27 AM

The State Library of Victoria aka the State Internet Cafe has free wifi, though from what I have heard it is pretty heavily used (and abused).

If you where heading further west (Perth WA), I could give you a few places for free wifi. A group of mining companies pump it out at 128k to a few city blocks and the State Library to another block.

Nick Cowie said on May 16, 2008 9:27 AM

The State Library of Victoria aka the State Internet Cafe has free wifi, though from what I have heard it is pretty heavily used (and abused).

If you where heading further west (Perth WA), I could give you a few places for free wifi. A group of mining companies pump it out at 128k to a few city blocks and the State Library to another block.

grigori said on May 22, 2008 4:38 PM

Hey Andy,

Upon your arrival to Australia, I think you will receive similar experience to Auckland if not worse(im speculating on “worse” statement).

Our Internet is quite honestly y a joke. My jaw just drop when I heard about 100mb/s from Korean friend..

I would so need that to run business selling video loops online. At the moment I’m pretty frustrated doing it.