Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Death of WiFi - Part II

As a means of accessing the Internet, WiFi may be dying.  As a means of accessing your internet appliances, it may still have a life.

Years ago, I opined that free WiFi is a great way to access the Internet.   But after travelling by RV for a number of years, I realized that having your own WiFi hotspot - particularly as part of your mobile phone - is a lot easier to deal with, and oftentimes cheaper.   Yes, "free WiFi" is often not free - but has staggering charges attached to it.

As more and more people use their phones to access the Internet, fewer and fewer people bother logging onto WiFi routers at cafes, hotels, and campgrounds.   Like the sad and broken telephone wires (remember those?) at campgrounds, and the more and more disused cable TV coaxial cable connections (which seem almost as quaint), many campgrounds are abandoning their WiFi networks as fewer and fewer people actually use them.

Often, these networks break down over time - a cable is snapped, or a router is broken.  Since no one is using it, no one bothers to complain to the front desk.   Eventually, the owner of the campground finds the fault, but figures, "no one is complaining, why fix it?"

From a user point-of-view, WiFi is just a hassle, a possible security risk, and often an expense.  We used to make sure we got the "WiFi code" when we checked into a campground.  But more often than not, the campground WiFi would be difficult to connect to, due to the distances involved, or if connection was possible, very slow to load anything, particularly when the guy next to you decides to stream all of season six of The Waking Dead or whatever.   And in many cases, the campground owner farms out the WiFi operation to a for-profit concern who wants $10 a day or more for the privilege of connection.

Our AT&T GoPhone (which was renamed to AT&T prepaid), is $56.50 a month for 22GB of data (they have since changed plan rates and actually lowered rates and gone to unlimited data).  They say you can't stream with it, or use it for a hotspot, but for over a year now, we've been doing both.   It seems to fill our needs - we've never gone over the data cap, and we've even dumped our internet landline AT&T "U-Verse" internet connection.  Our regular landline died years before that.

It's a wireless world, and WiFi as an internet connection makes less and less sense.  I am typing this in Ucluelet, BC, which is on Vancouver Island.  Even though I am in  a "foreign" country, I get better service (3G) through Roger's Wireless (via AT&T prepaid) than I would from a local WiFi network.  It simply makes no sense to bother with WiFi anymore.

This raises an ugly question.   We recently got a new A/C system which came with an annoying WiFi thermostat, which worked fine, once I disabled all the WiFi features.  Since we have no "router" anymore, there is no way to connect to the thermostat over the Internet, unless we configure it to run through the phone (which I have done, just to configure the thermostat not to use WiFi!).

If more and more people "cut the last cord" and go to an all-wireless configuration, what does this leave for the nascent "internet of things" or "internet appliance" business?   While a lot of tech-y geeks have WiFi doorbells and whatnot, this stuff is only just starting to penetrate to mainstream America.   When I told the A/C installer we didn't have a WiFi router, he looked at us like we were queer or something (or something).  He was even more amazed we didn't have cable TeeVee or even a sat-e-lite antenna!   What were we, Communists?

It begs the question, though.   Is it worth it to spend $100 a month on an internet connection and WiFi router in order to be able to control your thermostat and see who is ringing your doorbell? (or who is stealing all the crap you order from Amazon?).   Maybe to some - not to me.   Unplugging from the web is not a bad thing, but a bonus.

We still stream the occasional video now and then - over the phone to a pad, computer, or the television (which is not hard to do - most TVs today have a screen mirroring feature, or better yet, are WiFi enabled and can stream data through your phone just fine).   But increasingly, what I want to watch isn't on these online networks, and what they want to charge seems obscene to me.

I recently had lunch with a reader (yes, they actually exist) and they told me they check out DVDs from the local library - yes they still exist, libraries that is.  I find that used DVDs can be found for a buck or so - and swapped many a time, particularly at these RV parks which usually have a library of DVDs you can borrow for free.   No adverts, no fees.   Free is a price I like, when it is really free.

"But Bob!" you say, "How you keep up with the latest shows!  The new releases!  Explosion movies!  The new first-person-shooter video game!  The latest vampire zombie romantic saga?  What about all your sports channels!  You have to have those! Surely there has to be a better way!"

Maybe.  But deciding you don't need something that is a want, is perhaps a better way.