Posts Tagged ‘The Net’

Free Wifi! (or is it?)

March 31st, 2012 No comments

How many times have you seen a sign like the one on the right, standing outside a cafe proudly advertising ‘Free WiFi’? but how many times has it been true?

I’m not talking here about places that while not charging for access, still require you to register first with an email address (such as The Cloud at Pizza Express), presumably to have some sort of identification in case you use the connection for nefarious purposes.

More often that not, this is the sort of thing you will see when you fire up your WiFi settings:

So where’s the free WiFi?

Both the BTFusion and BTBusinessHub SSIDs are secured. The BTOpenzone SSID isn’t but that isn’t free. You either have to buy vouchers or have a contract that allows access.

There is no other SSID present, so the ‘Free WiFi’ claim outside is false, although not necessarily a lie on the part of the cafe owner – I’ll come to that later but I want to talk first about BT Openzone, as I think this lies behind the cafe owner’s belief that they are providing free WiFi.

BTOpenzone isn’t always BTOpenzone

As you can see, my iPhone has connected to the BTOpenzone SSID; As an O2 subscriber at the time of these screengrabs, I had access to the BT Openzone network, but as we will see, not all BT Openzone access points are created equal.

OK, we seem to be connected, let’s browse the web. Oh wait, no what’s this?:

“Sorry your mobile provider doesn’t provide access from this specific hotspot”.

So why did you show the Mobile provider icons?

And here we have the BTOpenzone cock up. When BT Openzone first started, WiFi access points were installed in motorway service stations, hotels, railway stations, airports etc. It is this original network that BT grants access to O2, Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile subscribers, something BT refers to as Premium Hotspots.

Unfortunately, when BT decided to create a network of access points using the installed base of BT Home and Business broadband hubs, some not-so-bright spark thought it was a good idea to use the same SSID. The problem is that these pseudo-BTOpenzone connections are only available to BT Broadband customers, not O2, Vodafone etc. customers. Now, fair enough, that is a commercial decision on BT’s part to separate the networks but since my phone has previously connected and used a real BT Openzone access point, it automatically connects to this one (see screengrab), after all why shouldn’t it, It’s the same ID?

After a few years, BT have finally realised this and have started to rename these SSIDs to BTOpenzone-H for Home, but this is far from complete and as we will see, even new connections are still being installed with the old SSID.

So what’s all this got to do with free WiFi?

Anyone looking at offering free WiFi access needs to consider a number of issues:

  • Any connection must only provide access to the internet, it must not in any way allow access to any devices on your own personal network, otherwise you risk a security breach.
  • If bandwidth or data usage is an issue on the connection you intend to share, how will you limit the amount of data used?
  • Any malicious or criminal use of your connection by others could be traced back to you as the account holder. Despite the fact that you would not have been responsible for such actions, cases already brought show that those pursuing claims don’t care that an IP address does not correspond to an individual. Can you afford to have to defend such a claim?

Recently, a cafe owner I know announced that they were intending to provide free WiFi in the cafe. I pointed out the concerns above and asked how they were intending to address these. They said that BT were providing the connection and that BT had said the BT equipment would allow the cafe could provide free WiFi to their customers. Given my experience at numerous cafes as detailed above, I was curious as to what BT were promising.

After BT installed the Business Broadband, there was nothing obvious for customers to connect to, only a Business Broadband SSID (private encrypted network for the owner’s personal use) and the usual low-grade BTOpenzone only available to BT Broadband customers. Note that this is a new install but still displays the same SSID as a premium hotspot.

The cafe owner contacted BT and asked how customers were supposed to get free WiFi. The cafe tell me that they were told to give out their private key to the Business Broadband SSID! This is an incredibly stupid thing to do, exposing the cafe owner’s network to the public, and making them liable for any malicious/criminal activity carried out using the connection. It should be noted that a BTOpenzone connection does address all three of the above issues as it requires registration, and is routed out via a VPN connection, but it is by no means free to the cafe customer using the WiFi. BT have since told the cafe that the only public connection is the BTOpenzone. It’s that or nothing.

Seeing this from the cafe owner’s perspective, I begs the question as to what all those other establishments that promise free Wifi, yet only show BTOpenzone, have been told. Are they being told that this is Free WiFi for customers? Do the sales bods selling BT Broadband to businesses believe that BTOpenzone is the free WiFi because it’s free to BT Broadband customers.

Are you a cafe/B&B/hotel owner? Do you offer free WiFi? I’d be interested in your experiences.

No Broadband or Slow Broadband?

May 26th, 2009 No comments

Cat 5 connection by kaeru.myIf you live in an area that has no broadband provision or you cannot get more than 2Mbps, then ThinkBroadband want to hear from you.

They are collating information for a coverage map showing the broadband ‘notspots’ in the UK.

Cat 5 picture by used under Creative Commons Licence

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Tiscali? Who’s that?

November 30th, 2008 No comments

TiscaliMy parents have Tiscali as their ISP. Recently they’ve had trouble connecting to Tiscali’s email server and have been blaming their router, but it happened while I was there today, so I did some quick checks.

The actual error they were getting was that Outlook Express was reporting that the Tiscali mail server could not be resolved. I checked a couple of websites and found that the internet connection was not down at all, it was just that was not resolving.

I added another DNS server to the search list and bingo – resolved and email worked again, so basically the fault was that Tiscali’s own DNS servers couldn’t resolve the address for their own email server – not a very impressive situation.

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An Odd Email from Amazon

March 18th, 2008 No comments

We’ve all had the usual email from the likes of Amazon, getting you to buy some associated kit, but I recently got this one after buying some Canon printer paper. It proudly starts with “We hope you’ve been enjoying your recent purchase, and thought you might like to see a few accessories and service plans that will help you make the most of it.”

Amazon Email

Nothing surprising there, but it’s all back to front, basically saying: “We notice you bought some paper, would you like a printer to print onto that paper”. Why would I be buying the paper if I didn’t have the printer in the first place?

I think Amazon need to tweak the programming that produces these emails.

Update: April 2009

Amazon really don’t know what the Canon printer paper is; they’ve just sent me an email recommending that awful film “Mamma Mia” again because I purchased Canon printer paper:

Amazon Mamma Mia email
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NHS Online Waiting Time

February 15th, 2008 No comments

Nice to see that the NHS webservers reflect the real-life experience:

NHS Waiting
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BBC iPlayer hogs Upload Bandwidth

February 6th, 2008 4 comments

BBC iPlayerI tried BBC’s iPlayer last year, even though they still have it locked into Microsoft, but along with several others, could not get it working. All I got was meaningless error messages.

I tried again last month. This time it did give a more meaningful error “there is a problem with DRM in your Windows Media Player, click here for information on how to fix this”, except that the link only sent me to a non-responsive web server.

Last night I tried again, and the link worked, except that it didn’t take me to a solution page as expected, but to a general FAQ site on iPlayer. After several page-digging minutes later (you would expect this issue to be on the front page of the FAQ) I managed to find a page describing a solution. I tried it and, what do you know, it worked.

Not surprisingly, the problem was with Microsoft’s Media Player and the solution involved deleting some DRM system files, a visit to a Microsoft page to re-download DRM files and since we’re talking Microsoft, the obligatory reboot. Not the sort of hoops a user should have to jump through just to install a program.

I then downloaded a handful of BBC programmes without problem. (One of my daughters was especially happy to see a CBeebies programme among them.)
BBC iPlayer Swamps Upload (Red Line)After they had downloaded, I noticed the lights on the router were still flashing away. I checked my usage graphs and was surprised to see my upload was being completely swallowed up by the iPlayer software busy sharing the programmes with other users. (See red line on graph). Now before you say anything, I fully understood before I installed iPlayer that it was a peer-to-peer application, but I have downloaded linux distros before using a BitTorrent type client and have never seen my upload swamped like this. I can only assume that there are so many other users on iPlayer that any free upload seeds will be quickly picked up and hammered.

Now we come to the important missing part – there is no way to control this except the option not to share when the iPlayer download manager is closed. Any normal respectable BitTorrent client allows you to limit the number of connections and bandwidth used for upload. I presume this option is missing, because the BBC wants to maximise the number of connections available to other users, and therefore the quality of their experience.

I had similar problems installing Sky Anytime (same kontiki based engine underneath) so I thought I’d give that a go too. This time it installed OK (the BBC fix had obviously had its effect here too) and I downloaded a few programmes. However, once you shut Sky Anytime down, it does not stop sharing files with others and doesn’t give you the option to stop either, because the kontiki engine is installed as a service in Windows.

The only way to stop it, is to fire up Task Manager and kill ‘kservice.exe’ and ‘khost.exe’, however these will reappear if you reboot or restart the clients. I have since gone into services and changed ‘kservice.exe’ from Automatic to Manual start.

Apparently, uninstalling the clients will not uninstall the kontiki engine. Sky provide a downloadable program called Kclean to remove these (BBC used to, but have removed the link), but I don’t want to remove the clients, I just want software that doesn’t hog my connection.

The other missing configuration option is upload/download ratio. Normally on a Torrent client you can set the maximum ratio of upload to download, so for example for every 1MB downloaded, the client will not share that 1MB file more than twice. Both Sky and BBC clients are fixed at unlimited. That is just taking the P***.

I have found this useful piece of software from ‘the Technophile’, which monitors both iPlayer and Channel 4’s 4od player and kills the upload automatically when you close them. It doesn’t mention Sky, but it has a simple option to ‘Stop Sharing now’ which stops the kontiki service and therefore any player system relying on it. Highly recommended.


Sky Tray IconIt does work with the Sky software. When you close the Sky software (from the tray icon) BeebAnd4Monitor spots this too and stops Kontiki.

Limiting iPlayer’s use of Bandwidth

Unfortunately, when iPlayer (or 4od/Sky Anytime) are running to allow you to watch programmes, they will be hammering your connection for what they can. I can recommend NetLimiter to restrict how much bandwidth you allow them to use.

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BT Broadband’s OTT SMTP Requirements

January 18th, 2008 No comments

BTSince the advent of spam, most ISPs have their SMTP servers set to only accept non-authenticated connections from computers on their own networks, and justifiably so. Some (mine included) offer the additional extremely useful option of making an authenticated connection (username and password) from outside their network to allow you to still use their SMTP server from anywhere in the world, without having to change settings to your host ISP’s SMTP server. In both cases, I am free to set the “From:” field to an email of my own choice, as I don’t use the email address provided by the ISP – I have my own domain name(s) for that, and want my outgoing emails to correctly show them instead.

Not so with BT Broadband. I was asked to assist a colleague who was complaining that he couldn’t send email on his BT Broadband connection. To cut a long story short, BT Broadband firstly require you to log in to the SMTP server using authentication, even if you are connected via their own network. Why?

However, that is still not enough if you don’t want to use the silly ‘’ address they supply you with. You must also register every single ‘from’ address you wish to use via BT Yahoo first.

Makes me so glad I have a decent ISP.

Further information on how to set things up correctly on BT Broadband can be found from Paul Doherty and Peter Curtis.

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Experian Cash in on Child Benefit Data Scare

November 21st, 2007 1 comment

Nice to see that Experian haven’t wasted any time in exploiting the current scare due to HMRC’s Child Benefit Data SNAFU. Entering ’25 million’ (or even just ‘million’ into Google, gets you an advert for Experian’s credit checking service, offering to ‘check that your Child Benefit data isn’t being used for fraudulent purposes’.

Experian Advert on Google
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Browser details on Comments

November 20th, 2007 No comments

If you are wondering how the browser details are shown in the comments, I have used an excellent plugin for WordPress from Priyadi Iman Nurcahyo.

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Windows Genuine Disadvantage

August 28th, 2007 No comments

One of the very reasons I don’t want Windows Vista is the threat that Microsoft will screw up the WGA validation system, and surprise, surprise, guess what happened this weekend?

Interestingly, Microsoft’s WGA Blog says:

This validation failure did not result in the 30-day grace period starting and no one went into reduced functionality mode as a result.

but in the very next sentence then says:

The experience of a system that failed validation in this instance was that some features intended for use only on genuine systems were temporarily unavailable.

Err, sorry Microsoft, but temporary unavailability of features is very definitely reduced functionality.

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