Surfing the free wifi wave in Dublin's city centre
Struggling to find a signal in St Patrick's Park. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Kevin Courtney looking for wifi in Temple Bar Square
Dublin can be heaven with coffee at 11, goes the song. With free wifi now available in most city centre coffee shops, Dublin is becoming a techie heaven, but imagine what a paradise our capital could be if you could log on to free wifi wherever you go – without having to spend a fortune on coffee and pastries.
Last Thursday, Dubliners were given the key to the promised land, when Lord Mayor Naoise Ó Muirí launched Dublin City Council’s free wifi service, which will be available in 12 locations around the city. Imagine walking around Dubbalin town, always connected to broadband, and able to tweet your latest thoughts, update your Facebook page, check out nearby restaurants on Google Maps, and post a few pictures of yourself outside the GPO to Instagram.
If Leopold Bloom could have availed of free wifi as he engaged in his citywide perambulations all those years ago, we might have got a very different version of Ulysses, with added hashtags, LOLs and OMGs, but still of course displaying the same cavalier attitude to punctuation.
Dublin City Council has chosen some well-known landmarks to set up its brave new service: Temple Bar Square, Wolfe Tone Square, Smithfield Square, Barnardo Square, Clarendon Street, St Patrick’s Park, Merrion Park, Grafton Street, Henry Street, outside the GPO on O’Connell Street, in front of the Convention Centre on City Quay, and in the outdoor amphitheatre at the Civic Offices at Wood Quay.
The free wifi spots will be marked by a specially commissioned mosaic by the artist Craig Robertson, each one featuring a pixelated “digidub” character, including Molly Malone, Dracula, GAA Man, Busker, Oscar Wilde, Viking, Phil Lynott and Pyjama Girl. Pyjama Girl?
This gives me an idea: why not start my own wifi walking tours of Dublin? I could lead a posse of tourists around the city centre, following a pre-planned route that ensures they stay connected to free wifi for, well, most of the time.
So, in the interests of market research, I decide to map out my own free wifi route.
I’m on the number four bus, going into town, and logging on to Dublin Bus’s free wifi service. And blimey it’s good. Not only can I do all the usual tweeting and emailing, I can also download apps such as Speedtest, which monitors your broadband speed. It tells me I have a download speed of 5,536kbps – I could watch a whole series of Dexter on Netflix, in super HD.
In comparison, the Dublin free wifi service has a broadband speed of 512kbps – about one 10th of Dublin Bus’s capacity. You can, however, avail of a premium service, offering speeds of 3mbps at €5 for 24 hours (to be used within one month of purchasing), or €10 for a month. And for €8 a month, you can have a whopping 6mbps 24/7, all year round.
Sure, with all that capacity, you wouldn’t need to go into the house ever again.
I’m in Temple Bar Square, trying to get a signal. No connection.
Nada. Hang on a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Only three locations received their free wifi last Thursday: the Civic Offices in Wood Quay, St Patrick’s Park and Barnardo Square. The other nine locations, including Temple Bar Square, will be getting theirs over the next few weeks. It looks like my inaugural wifi walking tour will be a very short stroll.
But seekers of wifi in Temple Bar needn’t fret – not only is the place soaked in beer, it’s also awash with free wifi. Every bar seems to have its own open network; I stand outside the Quays pub and get an excellent signal – and I don’t even have to go inside and buy a drink – although I do have to inhale some passive smoke from the smokers outside.
If you plan your route right, you could conceivably get around the city and stay in free wifi coverage for most of the time. Yelp.iehas a list of places that offer free wifi. These include the Irish Film Institute, the Science Gallery in Trinity, George’s Street Arcade, the Shelbourne, and Starbucks.
The downside is a lot of places will only give you the code if you purchase something from the premises, and you might only get around 20 minutes. The upside is that although it might cost you a fortune in coffee, booze and snacks, at least you’re not standing outside getting rained on.
I’m walking around the amphitheatre at the Civic Offices in Wood Quay, looking for a bit of Viking voodoo to boost my wifi signal. Finally, I hit the jackpot, but I have to stand in front of carpark entrance to get the signal.
The Dublin free wifi is provided by a Spanish company, Gowex, which has set up municipal wifi in several European cities, including Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and Buenos Aires. Once your phone detects the network (DublinGowexFreeWiFi) you have to register with Gowex to get your username and password, a slow enough process given that I’m working with just half a megabyte of download speed.
The lovely park outside St Patrick’s Cathedral looks like the perfect spot for some leisurely smartphone surfing, but I’m walking around in circles looking for a signal. Just as I’m about to give up, I’m connected. Just stand still, don’t move, don’t lose the signal, I tell myself. As I slowly look up from the phone, I realise I’m standing right in front of a children’s playground. A middle-aged bloke waving his mobile phone at a bunch of kids. Er, I’ll be off now.
I’m in Azteca restaurant on Lord Edward Street, using its free wifi to complete my registration with Gowex. It’s costing me a damn fine cup of Mexican coffee and a slice of delicious tequila and lime cheesecake. It’s worth it.
I’m back in Wood Quay, and finally, I’m doing it. I’m surfing that free wifi wave. Okay, I’m practically standing in the middle of Winetavern Street, dodging traffic, but at least I’m connected. And I’m pleasantly surprised by what I can do. I can Facebook (very important when you want to tell your friends all about your travels). I can read my emails (although I can’t download a measly 50kb attachment). And I can watch Villagers performing Nothing Arrived on YouTube (it’s always good to catch a local band while you’re visiting a city).
I’m on Barnardo Square, just outside City Hall, across the road from the Olympia Theatre on Dame Street. Above my head is a mosaic of “rockabilly chick” – no doubt based on Imelda May. But nothing’s rocking on my phone. Oh well, at least I can take a picture of the mosaic and upload it on the bus on the way home.
Oh, dear, my battery’s run out.