My internet and cellphone provider, Telenet, recently updated their free hotspots across Belgium.
Instead of using a traditional webportal to get access to the Wifi, they replaced their hotspots, TELENETHOTSPOT or TELENETHOMESPOT, with TelenetWiFree and now allow users to use their Telenet account as an 801.X enterprise account to connect to the network.
The benefit: the hotspot now works as any other wifi network. The iPhone discovers the hotspot and logs in, not only at known places, but across Belgium, and does this much more reliable than with the old web portal. (Which never seemed to remember me)
This last week I’ve travelled across Belgium for my job, and I purposefully disabled mobile data on my iPhone.
While walking through three or four towns my iPhone managed to connect to the Telenet WiFree network so often that I was able to stream music without major hickups or have Facetime calls over wifi while walking across town. And it didn’t cost me multiple gigabytes of cellular data.
I’m impressed both by the concept, and the performance.
I see two problems with this: security and privacy.
Since every user uses his default Telenet account to connect to the hotspots, in theory someone could intercept the connection and find out my Telenet ID and password. So suppose someone creates a rogue Telenet WiFree network in a popular coffeebar, I guess they’d find a few users who try to login to this network and unwillingly share their Telenet ID.
The other issue is privacy. Since the iPhone connects to known networks across the country almost continuously, tracking a user would give Telenet a lot more data with this new network.
Not only data on who’s connecting where with what kind of device (which is useful to improve performance), but also where I’m surfing to, what I’m downloading etc. I trust Telenet, but it’s something to think about.