I love free wifi hotspots. The problem is that there are so few around that when I find one I tend to stick to it almost religiously. At the moment I am blogging from the Virgin Active Classic gym in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg. This gym is intended to be more of a lifestyle centre with an air of exclusivity (they only admit a limited number of members on a first-come first-served basis). I haven’t actually worked out here for a little while because I have had a few colds, funny bugs and I am just plain lazy but I have been spending time here in the coffee shop area on one of the couches blogging, working and enjoying some of the other benefits this gym has to offer, particularly the free wireless Internet access.
Unfortunately free wireless Internet access is something of a novelty as far as I can tell. There are quite a few hotspots in Jo’burg, don’t get me wrong, but these hotspots are accessible if you come to the party with your credit card. One of the bigger hotspots is Sandton City (in partnership with WirelessG) itself which, aside from being one of South Africa’s biggest shopping centres, is also one giant wifi hotspot (most of the time). The only problem is that Internet access in this hotspot or the many other hotspots in Johannesburg is not cheap. Since I have a wifi zone at home connected to my 384Kbps ADSL line, it is difficult to justify paying for Internet access just because I would rather be out of my office space for a couple hours.
Thankfully there are options. For those looking for free hotspots, it seems that there are free hotspots in my gym, the Park Hyatt in Rosebank and in the Mugg & Bean (and immediate surrounds) in the Rosebank Mall. The hotspot around the Mugg & Bean is a Telkom T-Zone which, last time I checked, was basically in beta and free until Telkom decided to (over)charge for that service too.
When I am out and about and there isn’t a free hotspot in sight, I tend to use my 3G connection on my Nokia 6630. I have a data package with mobile network, MTN, which isn’t too bad. I basically prepay for 100MB worth of data over the mobile network (either GPRS, EDGE or even, gasp, 3G) each month as a backup to my usual home connection. Unfortunately this option isn’t a cheap one either once you get past the prepaid bandwidth. I hit my cap on my ADSL connection in January and had to use my mobile phone for a week or so. My mobile phone bill jumped about R500 (about $80) in the process. Definitely not a viable alternative to my ADSL connection just yet.
As for the other item in this post’s title … well unicorns are mythical beasts, just like cheap broadband in South Africa. Free hotspots aren’t, you just have to look hard.