Anything but wired
Whereas even buses in the U.S. are equipped with wireless Internet, there are few such 'hot spots' in Israel.
Tim Harrington travels every day by bus from his home in Mason, Ohio, to his job in Cincinnati - a 30-40 minute ride during rush hour. His journey would not have been reported by USA Today were it not for the fact that Harrington already starts his workday on the bus, checking his email on the laptop positioned on his knees. According to a survey by the American Public Transportation Association, at least 20 American cities are already offering free wireless Internet connections on buses.
This service was introduced about four years ago and similar services exist on trains in the U.S., Britain and Japan. In Israel, no one is even talking about Internet services on buses. And no one in the office of the Israel Railways spokesperson even remembers that not so long ago they offered wireless Internet services in train stations and on platforms for an exorbitant price, using the services of an outside company that won a tender in February 2006. In any case, no such service exists today.
Even abroad, not every place is wired. In effect, a recent article in The New York Times reported that the implementation of a plan to wire entire cities in the U.S. had been put on hold, partly because of overly ambitious plans and funding difficulties. But in Israel, or so it seems, the vision of wired cities came to an end much earlier.
Even the project launched in late 2004 for downtown Jerusalem, in cooperation with Intel and Compumat, slowly died; the same project that enabled free surfing in the vicinity of the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall and Safra Square. According to the Jerusalem municipality, "The project has not been functioning for about a year. Soon an appropriate alternative will be reviewed, and the proper business model will be checked. This time the project operator will be required to commit to the municipality."
On the other hand, it is possible to surf the Web for free in Jerusalem, as in most public and commercial spaces in Israel, including cafes, restaurants and malls.
According to an article in The Economist, entitled "Nomads at last" (April 10), wireless communication is so widespread today that we are all gradually becoming modern nomads. The new nomad is always connected, with the help of his cellular phone or laptop. If one takes the mobile phone out of the equation, then, in Israel, this theory mainly applies to Tel Aviv. Apart from a few places, such as Shoham and Kfar Vradim, the farther away you are from the center, the fewer "hot spots" (a public or commercial space providing a wireless Internet connection) there are. Even the number of businesses offering free wireless Internet connections declines drastically.
According to different maps published on the Net, in Beit She'an, for example, only the local McDonald's and one gas station offer free wireless Internet services; only one hotel in Bat Yam offers a wireless Internet connection in return for a charge, alongside one mall and three cafes with free wireless Internet.
The situation is not much different in Givatayim, Metula, Acre and Modi'in, "the city of the future."
A recent visit to Haifa illustrated just how complicated it is to be in a foreign city with a laptop. Haifa has the third largest number of hot spots among Israel's cities (after Tel Aviv and Jerusalem).
Yet, one has to wander from McDonald's to several cafes just to send an email, only to end up paying a truly aggravating fee to the Dan Panorama Hotel, which charges no less than six dollars for 30 minutes of Internet surfing, eight dollars for an hour and 17 dollars for 24 hours. All of the rates are specified in dollars and do not include value added tax.
Attorney and blogger Effi Fuks recently described his search for wireless Internet during his reserve duty nearby the Golani Junction. He roamed the vicinity with a laptop and stopped in front of the locked gates of McDonald's and Yellow convenience stores. At both, the connection moved slowly. Eventually Fuks located a weak signal that allowed him to send email.
An expensive solution
David Pogue, The New York Times' technology columnist, reported in his column last Thursday on a compact cellular modem, the Sierra/Sprint Wireless Compass 597. All you need to do is connect it to the computer, using a simple USB port, and you can surf the Net from anywhere, at high speed. The modem itself costs just $50, but you have to pay another $50 a month for unlimited surfing. When will this technology arrive in Israel?
In the meantime, take advantage of the excellent WeFi software, developed by an Israeli startup that was co-founded by Yossi Vardi. The software, which can be installed free on computers with Vista and XP, in effect replaces the Windows Networking center. It locates existing networks in the area and connects to the closest, functioning network.
The software also has a communal aspect - users are invited to feed updates and opinions about "hot spots" in their vicinity, in Israel and around the world. These updates are added to Google maps that are posted on the company's Web site.
Unlike other such maps, including the one at http://maps.fon.com, the WeFi site already offers a comprehensive map of Israel. Other local mapping services, including those at the Mapa and Bezeq sites, include only those "hot spots" located in public and commercial spaces, of which there are just a few hundred.
By contrast, WeFi maps include updates on private networks and businesses that did not intend to loan their network to outsiders, not even for a short time. So far community members of the Israel map have posted updates about thousands of "hot spots," which can be used to connect to the Internet, even in more outlying areas.
The WeFi software also allows users to find friends who are online and chat with them. The program's Beta versions also work on Macintosh computers and cellular phones with the Windows Mobile operating system.
The company's site: http://www.wefi.com
Other ways to find "hot spots" (most of them will only help abroad): http://www.mashable.com/2007/09/03/wifi-toolbox
Hot spots on the Mapa site: http://www.mapa.co.il/ng/result_Free.asp?subjectid=19
The Bezeq map: http://hotspots.bezeqint.net/map.asp
Attorney Effi Fuks searches for "hot spots": http://effifuks.blogli.co.il/archives/644