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Welcome can be lukewarm at Wi-Fi hot spots

For many companies offering Wi-Fi hot spots, service is their weak spot as they fail to ensure customers can get easy access to help and support
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Many of the UK's commercial Wi-Fi hot spots suffer from a lack of trained staff to help users to get connected, according to the findings of a ZDNet UK investigation.

Despite advertising the presence of a wireless network to potential customers, some companies are failing to follow this up by ensuring that users can get easy access to help and support.

Coffee chain Starbucks is at the forefront of the drive to roll out Wi-Fi hot spots in Britain. However, its official policy is that when the network appears to be down, users should call T-Mobile (which operates Starbucks' Wi-Fi network) to try to discover when it might be back.

"Sometimes it's up and sometimes it's down. We're only the host company, we can't help at all," explained a staff member when asked why there was a distinct lack of Wi-Fi on the premises, despite an advert on the front door.

A later visit to a second Starbucks store yielded better results, and the fact that Starbucks employees at least know this much puts them ahead of some rivals.

Anyone asking about the BT Openzone Wi-Fi network at the Tower Thistle hotel in London is likely to be met by blank faces, and pointed towards the queue at the check-in desk.

At other hot spots, though, staff have more of a clue -- with "virtually free" networks providing at least as good a service as one where you pay up to £6 per hour.

Wi-Fi should be a simple matter of turning on a laptop and signing up to the network, with minimal assistance needed, say proponents of the technology. Given the vagaries of networks, laptops and operating systems, it won't always be that easy, so users should be aware that at many hot spots they've very much on their own.

Click here to read ZDNet UK's IT Priorities mobile wireless special report.

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