Thursday, December 30, 2004

Hot Spots in South Africa

I was just asked about any hot spots in Cape Town and having written a couple of reviews for the IOZ mailing list, I realised I should post it here... it's a little outdated but here goes:

Internet Solutions/MWEB/Airports Company SA
Following my first couple experiences of the new hot spots at the airports (Cape Town and Jhb airports), I decided to write up a short review similar to the Telkom hotspots review I wrote couple months ago.

Overall I remain puzzled at how any organisation can leave a network in such a state (besides that the advertised SMTP server doesn't work, see images of the connectivity below). I have a friend that is linking up rural municipalities and like our homes, once they're set up we find them to be reliable. I am really amazed that we haven't had wifi in Airport lounges for some time and now that we do, how they can be so poorly implemented? (I mean this as a real question if anyone has any answers)

Firstly I have considered that it is the airport and secondly although when traveling on SAA I get to use the business lounge, I also occasionally have to use another line and get to see what the economy version is getting. Keep in mind that in the business lounge they have provided (local) dial up access free of charge for many years now (this must come with some Telkom expense). I would suggest that the costs of the the dial ups (they give free local calls for Internet dial up) would make it more cost effective to stick in an adsl connection and connect up the LAN points and put in a wireless AP. Anyhow, in theory they have noth now.

The first time I tried it was in August, and there was a free option for a couple of weeks. By September it was live and charged at R50 per hour, or one could use a IS or MWEB login. In my mind this definitely means that Telkom will also have to broaden their hotspots to the Airports, unless the current SP has some kind of exclusivity? Is anyone aware of more details on this?

To cut to the chase, it appears that these are no longer operational as the old URL is dead and none of these providers say a word on their websites about this service.

Telkom T-zone
Having attended the Futurex conference in Sandton in May I had an opportunity to try out a Telkom "T-Zone" hotspot firsthand. These are some of my observations....

1. WIFI broadband! - I did get it to work on the first day with a little playing around.... my Apple powerbook easily found the 'telkom' wifi network but I couldn't get Internet access at first. When I tried a web browser it did redirect me to a T-Zone URL ( Seems like this is only visible from the hotspot. A little peeking around showed that I could access all Telkom sites although I couldn't smtp yet. The URL has a login and a link to a registration page that after one completes the form a username and password is sent by SMS. This enables a user to two hours free connectivity (I assume a one time offer per cell number). I used the details to login and then a second step allows one to 'connect'. I must admit that for the time that I was connected the bandwidth was superb, way superior to an adsl line (downloaded a 3,5Mb file from my US ftp server in There is a note: " ADSL users logging in with their ADSL accounts will accrue data towards their normal account". So I tried my adsl login on the web page mentioned above. It failed many times. So I called the 0800 number and in typical fashion held and held and held. Finally someone answered and confirmed that it should work as it uses the same authentication server. He asked for my adsl login details and called back to confirm that they are correct for adsl logins but he could not test them on the wifi login page. Turns out that it's the same helpdesk as the adsl. The guy said he would investigate further and call me back but the second callback didn't materialise (unfortunately I didn't have a pen to write down his name when I eventually got through on my mobile...). I also tried to send an email to the address listed on the site for 'suggestions', the response was thanks for your email and "Kindly contact the following number, 0800 375 375, for further assistance." Further than what?

3. PPPOE over wifi - Having decided not to give up I went to the Telkom stand at the exhibition to seek help. On the first day I arrived the 'sales' staff manning the stands said the technical people had already left (at 4:30pm). When I went the next day it was the same story but they did allow me to use their landline to call the helpdesk again. This time the 'sales' person did the holding and immediately handed me to a lady who seemed to have more knowledge. She said that she had successfully assisted a Windows XP user to establish a PPPOE connection over wifi at a t-zone using an adsl login. Unfortunately Mac OS X doesn't support that (only PPPOE on the ethernet adapter) and she had no response about that. She said that she would investigate further and kindly gave me another 'two hour' free login.

4. Unreliable - Although the connection worked great on the first day when I did manage to connect, the ability to 'connect' (as opposed to login) was unreliable. Whilst I could connect to the telkom/t-zone wifi network and login without any problem, I could not connect to the internet at all (i.e. via the second step of the web page login) on the second or third day of the conference.

I'm not an expert on PPPOE vs. PPTP but I imagine that it would be useful if they enabled PPTP authentication over Wifi (and PPPOE). Mac OS X does support this and I suspect that it has many security and practical advantages over PPPOE over WiFi, as well as an ability to allow users to create VPN's over regular ethernet adsl connections. I'm interested to hear any other experience or perspective on this idea?

Okay, well considering that these above don't seem to be great, and considering that these reviews are somewhat dated I suggest that one cannot rely on a specific hotspot, but one can rely on finding one somewhere in Cape Town or Johannesburg. There are dozens of Internet Cafes and many will have hotspot facilities.


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