Not really sure what Wi-Fi means? You’re probably not alone. Of the approximate 700 million people who use it worldwide on 750,000 hotspots (again, this can only be an estimate), it’s unlikely that many know that Wi-Fi, or ‘Wireless Fidelity’, was introduced in 1999 because it echoed the catchy ‘Hi-Fi’ (or High Fidelity), and therefore would be easier for people to remember than the official term: ‘IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence’. This horrendous mouthful describes a certification doled out by trade association The Wi-Fi Alliance to those products that meet certain standards – ie, wireless that actually works.
In common parlance, of course, Wi-Fi indicates any cordless internet access, now available in many homes, hotels, airports, restaurants and even parks and stations. In 2005, Sunnyvale, California became the first US city to offer city-wide free Wi-Fi. In 2006, Norwich in the UK, rather surprisingly, jumped on the bandwagon to offer free Wi-Fi for 18 months at the cool cost of £1.1 million (Dhs6.5m), and by 2012, London is set to become the first Wi-Fi city in Europe. And what about Dubai? Will it ever become a Wi-Fi city? With telecomms provider Du retracting all its free coverage last year, it seems unlikely.
However, it is already possible to spot small ways in which Wi-Fi is altering our society. Some nightclub hosts now check whether you’re on the guestlist on an iPad, for example. The question of whether the Dubai Metro offered free Wi-Fi was one of the main talking points when it launched last year (it did, for a limited time, and now you have to pay). And following the raft of redundancies during the credit crunch, coffee shops now work as makeshift offices for many freelancers.
The biggest question, of course, is: how long until we have a Wi-Fi world? When you can log on in the middle of the Empty Quarter or the Pacific, without a password? Probably about the same time we all stop leaving the house and simply live our lives through Facebook and Twitter (not long). In the meantime, check out the 18 hotspots we’ve sniffed out in Dubai.
Al Khaleej Palace Hotel: The free Wi-Fi at Al Khaleej Palace reaches across the whole hotel, but we recommend heading to one of the lounges if you have not checked in to a room.
Al Maktoum Street, Deira (04 223 1000).
All Address hotels and The Palace: The super-plush series of Address hotels offer free internet. Our favourite is still the original: the Address Downtown Dubai.
Downtown Dubai, The Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina, Montgomerie Dubai and The Palace, www.theaddress.com (04 436 8888).
Dubai Airport, Terminals 1 & 3: Surf while you wait for your flight. Plus, since July 1, Emirates has offered free Wi-Fi and in-flight calling across its A380 fleet.
Caribou Coffee outlets: You need to buy at least one drink at this Canadian chain. We recommend the chai latte.
Academic City, Al Ghurair City, DIFC, Festival City, Garhoud Views, JBR, Marina Mall, Mirdif, Souk Al Bahar, The Dubai Mall, The Greens/The Views, Times Square Centre, Wafi, www.cariboucoffee.com (04 427 0543).
Caffè Nero outlets: You do have to buy something to use the complimentary Wi-Fi, although we’ve heard the Italian coffee is rather good.
DIFC, Green Community, Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Motor City, The Dubai Mall, www.caffenero.com/uae (04 339 9731).
The Dubai Mall: The first shopping centre in Dubai to offer mall-wide coverage. May it not be the last! That’s 440,000 square feet of covered space to play with.
www.thedubaimall.com (800 3822 46255).
Dubai Metro: The metro’s Wi-Fi service is available in stations and on trains and costs Dhs10 an hour via a credit card; Dhs20 an hour on pre-paid cards valid for 60 days.
Elements Café: Take your free Wi-Fi with a side of crazy artwork, sports screens or shisha on the terrace. You can also pick from sushi, tapas, sandwiches, pasta and pizza.
Wafi, Oud Metha (04 324 4252).
Jumeirah Beach Hotel: Available across the entire hotel, including the Dhow & Anchor pub and Uptown Bar.
Beach Road, Jumeirah (04 348 0000).
Marco Polo Hotel: This four-star hotel offers blanket Wi-Fi coverage for free in the rooms and restaurants, including scrumptious Indian, The Bombay.
Al Muteena Street, Deira (04 272 0000).
Media One Hotel: The new four-star has Wi-Fi in the lobby. Chase it with a drink at classy pool bar M-Dek afterwards.
Dubai Media City (04 427 1000).
More cafés: Grab a ginger tea and a saucepan of tomato soup and settle. The Dubai Mall branch is best for people-watching.
Al Murooj Rotana, Festival City, Garhoud, Gold & Diamond Park, Mall of Emirates, Mirdif City Centre, The Dubai Mall, www.morecafe.biz (04 339 8934).
Piccolo Mondo Café: One of Dubai’s few Bohemian oases, this café is run by a well-travelled Iraqi character called Zaki, and features ships hanging from the walls, large Grecian busts and African carvings nestled amid dangling vines of plastic ivy. As well as plenty of food,soft drinks and shisha, of course.
International City, Italy cluster, building U02 (04 420 0788).
Radisson Blu hotels: Free Wi-Fi is available in all three of the hotels in the city. We recommend noodle bar Yum!, in the Deira branch.
Dubai Deira Creek, Dubai Marina, Dubai Media City, www.radissonblu.com (04 222 7171).
Ritz-Carlton Dubai: Enjoy free internet in the Lobby Lounge, along with afternoon tea: Dhs125 from 2pm until 6pm every day. Fine-dine while you surf.
The Walk at JBR (04 399 4000).
Za’abeel Park: Etisalat provide free wireless across the Za’abeel Park area, including in Stargate and the lakeside Thai and Chinese – and very economical – Zen Restaurant.
Stargate, Gate 4 (04 325 9988); Zen Restaurant, Gate 6 (04 321 7170).
Protection from hackers!
Shockingly, there aren’t many data protection laws in the UAE, although there are some provisions in the Penal Code about protection of privacy, under which hacking most likely falls. ‘The TRA website, www.tra.gov.ae, has all the regulations, but it’s not all clear,’ says Vineetha Menon, former editor of ITP.net. ‘Either way, “piggybacking”, the term used to describe devices linking to wireless, is fine as long as it’s your connection. Sneakily linking to someone else’s Wi-Fi is frowned upon.’
Not only should you not use someone else’s Wi-Fi, but you should protect your own. In places such as the UK, cyber-criminals are targeting café chains offering the service, including Starbucks. Rather than logging into the branch’s network, victims are being diverted to a ‘rogue’ connection, in what has been labelled an ‘evil twin attack’. While there’s little you can do to avoid this, you can make your account more thief-proof by not using any of the following popular passwords: linksys, default, Wireless, NETGEAR, belkin54g, 1234, Apple Network 0273df – and obviously ‘password’ itself.