I recently returned from a trip to Western Europe, and was surprised by the state of their WiFi networks. Now, to be fair, this article is based on my personal experiences, both travelling in North America and a two-week trip in Europe. However, I did feel that there were two interesting comparisons to be made between the two continents, just as a generalization.
My first big surprise upon arriving in Europe was that virtually all wireless networks were fully secured. In North America, it is still extremely common to find completely open wireless networks, and the news regularly regularly regularly reports on police action caused by an unsecured WiFi network. In two weeks of travelling in Europe, I found precisely one unsecured, non-public WiFi network, and it was called (predictably) ‘D-Link’. Through-out our trip, we continuously found many wireless networks every time we checked, but they all were secured.
Having your wireless network secured is essential to protect your data on the Internet, and to prevent malicious users from using your network for nefarious reasons. For a business network, this is even more important, and confidential client data will be constantly streamed over your network, and by leaving it unsecured you allow thieves to simply ‘read’ it out of thin are with nothing even slowing them down.
Public WiFi in Europe was very limited, and where we did find some, it generally didn’t work. Only one example stands out – Luxembourg City had a great public WiFi system covering their main train station, and it worked great! Outside of that location, no city in Europe (of the 8 we visited) seemed to have a working, functional public WiFi network to offer to the thousands of tourists visiting. The Eiffel Tower, for example, did have a WiFi network, but it only allowed a visitor to use it to download their (non-free) iOS app to explore the Tower.
By comparison, many cities in North America are investing in public wireless networks, seeing the as incentives to shoppers, business and tourists. The cost of setting up public WiFi networks is surprisingly low, and with cloud-powered solutions from Meraki, it is very easy to manage even the largest of networks.
I went into Europe predicting to my wife that there would be many WiFi networks to choose from, and that we wouldn’t need a data plan to stay in touch. Turns out I was only partly correct – Europe is covered in WiFi, but nearly none of it is open or publicly accessible. It seems that both continents could afford to learn a little from the other: in North America we need to make a better effort to secure our WiFi, and Europe really needs more public wireless access. That said, both my wife and I did really enjoy two weeks of being mostly unplugged!