Thursday, 4 September 2003

Birmingham Bull Ring

They opened the new Bull Ring development today - with the superb Future Systems Selfridges. They were meant to have Wi-Fi access there but read on.....

“The Bull Ring will have a publicly accessible wireless network throughout the building” the publicity had said. As luck would have it I had a meeting in the city centre on the day the Bull Ring opened, and a bit of free time afterwards. So I decided to put the claim to the test. After all so-called “Wi-Fi” wireless networks that let you browse the web from your laptop in public spaces at broadband speed are meant to be the big new thing.

First stop was the information centre at the Bull Ring. “Wireless? – you need the media centre sir.” After a bit of explanation the penny dropped. “Internet” and “laptop” appear to be the key words here. “Try Starbucks and Borders – they have it”. Starbucks is just near by. I pop in. “Laptop?” – the girl points me to a power socket. “No, wireless”. I’m referred on to the manager. “No, not us, sorry”.

Oh well, on to Borders – who are just recovering from a building evacuation due to a faulty fire alarm. Ask at the desk. “Try the Starbucks upstairs”. Up I go, dodging camera crews and photographers. “Wireless, no, not here. We’ve only got two in Birmingham. Try New Street.”

On my way up to New Street I pass the new steel and glass city information booth. Looks futuristic – worth a try?

“Wireless Internet? Wi-Fi?”
“Oh you want Richer Sounds sir, they do a good range of hi-fi”.
“No, not Hi-Fi, Wi-Fi. Laptops”.
“There’s a good Sony Centre”
“No, wireless computing.”
“Oh a good computer dealer”.

OK so may be the future is only skin deep. On to Starbucks on New St.

“Wireless Internet?” I ask the girl behind the counter. “Yes, over here”. Kate hands me a copy of the Starbucks T-Mobile guide. At last someone understands what I’m talking about.

I finally sit down with a Latte and laptop, several hundred metres from the Bull Ring.

The T-mobile instructions are simple. You need a laptop and a browser. To get connected just fire up your browser at any web page and “you will be directed to the T-mobile HotSpot page.” Great, I fire up my browser, type in”.

“The page cannot be displayed” replies the computer.

Oh. Try the BBC, Google, MSN. No joy. The laptop is adamant that the network is there and giving me excellent signal strength – but the browser still refuses to talk to the Internet.

In search of help I ask the manager. He’s as helpful as he can be, but it comes down to trying to phone the T-Mobile help desk. The guy at the other end asks me what the problem is and where I am. “Starbucks New Street” I tell him. “OK” he says, “I’ll check it out.” “Oh”, he says ominously, “I can’t bring up the page to check the site. I’ll need to pass you on to someone else. Please wait while I put you on hold”. Ten minutes later I’m still on hold and finally give up.

So it looks like the brave new world of Wi-Fi still has a way to go, at least in Birmingham’s city centre. Time to go home. At least when I get there I know that my home wi-fi network will be ready and waiting and let me use my laptop from the patio while I enjoy a cool glass of wine on this warm late summers evening.

***Imported from old blog***

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