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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 August 2006, 22:18 GMT 23:18 UK
Reporters' log: Wi-fi day out
The city centre of Norwich
The city centre of Norwich is blanketed with wi-fi coverage

The BBC News Interactive technology section spent Thursday working remotely via wi-fi in Norwich.

The city is covered by a wi-fi network which lets people access the internet and web services free of charge.

The team filed reports from Norwich as we grappled with the technology, talked to people via internet telephony and filed our stories and features remotely.

Darren Waters, 1800 Thursday, 31 August

The big wi-fi day is over. We've managed to work for a whole day via a wi-fi connection in the centre of a city. It has not been entirely easy.

There have been plenty of technical problems but most of them have been small and temporary obstacles.

Some of the problems were not connected to wi-fi at all, such as the constant need for power and the ever tangled power cables.

Some devices were simply user unfriendly and for the most part we used our laptops to phone, e-mail and work.

Working in an outdoor cafe sounds attractive but the reality is very different. Constant noise and distractions make working very difficult indeed.

There is something to be said after all for the quiet hum of an office.

The biggest success from our perspective has been the excitement for wi-fi that our coverage has engendered in the people of Norwich.

We've been approached by many people to ask about wi-fi and our decision to decamp to the city was picked up by BBC Breakfast and News 24, further spreading the gospel of wi-fi.

We spent an hour talking to users around the world about the techology - they phoned us via Skype, video chatted to us via iChat and sent a torrent of instant messages.

It was a good exercise in talking to readers and I want to thank everyone who took part.

We'll be posting answers to some of the best questions you posed us on the news website on Friday.

Rebecca Morelle 1600 Thursday, 31 August

Working outside of the office is much more difficult than I anticipated.

The internet access is fantastic, but sitting in noisy coffee shops and working on unfamiliar laptops is harder than I thought it would be.

Something that should have taken 30 minutes for me to do, has taken much much longer.

Maybe it is just something that you need to get used to.

It seems that there is a big appetite out there for wi-fi - we had lots of questions from our interactive session and the people that I spoke to in the town were very interested.

Stephen Hughes from just outside of Norwich said he would be interested in using it, perhaps for using online games.

The Blake family, who live about 10 miles outside of the centre said they were not so sure. Although they use the net at home, they told me, they were not certian that they would come into the centre to take advantage of wi-fi access.

Jonathan Fildes 1537 Thursday, 31 August

We're in the middle of an interactive question and answers session using the open wireless network.

This is virgin territory for us. People are calling us using Voip, video calling using iChat and instant messenger. It's never been done before on the BBC news website.

People are contacting us from all over the world. Most people very kindly are asking us to ask how our experiment is going and we're pleased to say, for the most part, it's going very well.

Others have security questions and some want to know when a service like the one being offered in Norwich will roll out to their town.

We haven't got all of the answers - particularly to specific technical questions - but we're willing to give most things a go. There are smiles all round and we're having great fun chatting with you.

There's 20 minutes left to contact us, so log on and send us your questions.

We'll be posting the best ones on the site later.

Jonathan Fildes 1400 Thursday, 31 August

Wireless is great. You can work anywhere you want, moving seamlessly around the city, constantly connected to the internet.

Work in the park, on the bench in front of the town hall or, like us, outside a coffee shop in the centre of Norwich.

But there's one snag with this wireless dream. It's not wireless at all.

At the moment we're all connected to a large yellow cable snaking its way out of the shop, across the piazza and into our computers.

It's not providing an internet connection, but the power for our laptops.

Within a couple of hours this morning all four of us were plugged into a power point, our batteries depleted.

If wireless is really going to be the future, we need to work out how to power it first.

Adam Blenford 1338 Thursday, 31 August

Five minutes walk from the BBC's base for the day, Lewis Allen's internet cafe is doing steady trade.

Tucked in the eaves of a decommissioned church, Norwich Internet Cafe's 12 terminals, are equipped with headsets, bright screens, soft lighting, games - and the cafe boasts a wi-fi connection all of its own.

According to Lewis, there's not much call for wi-fi up here - roughly one customer a day. He's bullish about his business, but he does admit that outside the home, there is a "growing expectation" that internet access should be free.

I'm slightly sceptical of his claim that wandering business people use his facilities when they travel to Norwich: until I stumble across one doing exactly that.

Vicky Stevens, who runs an "ethical web design" company in Nottingham, doesn't trust her laptop battery for too long out in the open. Besides, she would rather support a local business like the internet cafe than pump more money into Starbucks. But free wi-fi access for everyone in Norwich does sound like a good idea, she admits.

On another terminal, plant scientist Liz Nicholson is scouting out potential purchases on the high street. Liz has come into Norwich from a nearby village and wants to check what the stores have to offer. She sounds interested in the Norfolk Open Link project; with computers getting smaller all the time, it could be very useful.

Buoyed by the news that even customers at a 1990s-model internet cafe are in favour of free wi-fi, I crack open the MacBook hoping to pass on the good news. The Norfolk project seems a sure-fire hit.

One small problem, though. Just five minutes walk from our base at the Forum and I'm already out of range. Lewis Allen smiles and turns towards me: "Would you like to use our wi-fi network?"

Rebecca Morelle 1230 Thursday, 31 August

Armed with a camera, my notebook and a laptop, I have taken to the streets of Norwich to quiz the people who work and live here on their feelings about wi-fi.

After a few, "no thank you miss, not todays", I managed to chat with some people.

Pretty much everyone who I spoke to said the internet plays a part in their life - banking, checking emails, and shopping were a few of their reasons for using the net.

Not everyone knew what wi-fi was, but most seemed to think the fact that internet access was available city-wide was a rather good idea.

And many said they would probably take advantage of it at some point in the future.

My next challenge is to build a picture gallery for the site while sitting here in a café in the city-centre, and also to upload the snaps to Zoomr, so you can see on a map where I got to in the city.

Adam Blenford 1211 Thursday, 31 August

I've never made a Skype call before, although my flatmate does it all the time.

But as part of the second wave, heading to Norwich on a morning train, my job has been to ask some of those people using Norwich's new wi-fi service exactly how they are getting on.

First was Peter, a TV and satellite signal engineer, and a man who presumably appreciates the value of decent reception.

However, slightly against the spirit of our experiment, helpful Peter was right there in front of me when I arrived at The Forum in Norwich city centre.

He explained how wi-fi is helping him expand his business, and seemed pleased with the service as it stands at the moment.

Peter came through loud and clear, but getting hold of Carol, a local midwife who plans to use wi-fi to keep track of her appointments across the city, proved trickier.

Was it the VoIP settings on the Apple MacBook? Was it a glitch in the wireless network? Nothing quite as new-fangled, I'm afraid. Carol, on her old-fashioned mobile somewhere in Norwich, simply wouldn't pick up the call.

Darren Waters 1215 Thursday, 31 August

Major embarassment for me ensued when I struggled to find the Norwich hotspot using my BBC laptop.

I spent 10 frustrating minutes with no success and even had help from the technical support staff of the firm who set up the network.

We tried re-booting, re-starting, re-configuring and remonstrating with no success.

It only dawned on me after 20 minutes of frustration that I had simply failed to click the button on the laptop which switches the wi-fi card on.

Not exactly the brightest moment for the technology editor of the BBC News website.

Darren Waters 1020 Thursday, 31 August

Sometimes technology can prove frustrating and sometimes the problem is the user.

I've been unable to configure the Nokia N80 phones to use the wi-fi and access my e-mail account. I can surf the net although the phones insist - rather bizarrely - that they are offline.

But if I try to download or send some e-mail, I am out of luck.

Is the problem the phone's interface or my inability to use the phone without a manual? I suspect a bit of both.

I've also been unable to use the Belkin Skype phone inside the free Norwich network. The problem is not the phone - which works fine when accessing a truly open network.

The problem is that the Norwich hotspot requires uses to sign up to some simple terms and conditions. You can only do that on a wi-fi device with a browser.

But I have managed to make my first proper internet phone call using Skype on a laptop.

The call lasted 20 minutes and cost about 15p - which is pretty good.

I spoke to regulator Ofcom - and I'll be filing a report on voice over IP (internet telephony) later - and the quality was excellent - as good as a mobile phone.

We've also had lots of readers preparing themselves to talk to us later in the day about wi-fi. Suddenly I am the most popular man in the world with lots of friend requests.

Apologies if I have not been able to talk to some of you immediately but we will be chatting later at 1500 BST.

Jonathan Fildes 0845 Thursday, 31 August

With everything up and running one of the first tasks of the day is to login to Second Life and check on how my character is doing.

Second Life is an online virtual world inhabited by more than 200,000 residents. People log on to chat, socialise and live a second life as a digital character of their choosing.

There's a full moon when I log on but as usual the popular spots are teeming with people.

The 256kbps wi-fi connection I'm using in Norwich is just one sixteenth of the speed I normally use at home, but it seems to cope just fine.

Second Life is not as graphically intensive as some applications but its still impressive that it works seamlessly around the wi-fi hot zone.

In fact it works so seamlessly that it is going to be difficult to resist the urge not to log on all day as I walk around the city.

Darren Waters 0800 Thursday, 31 August

We're up and running. The technology team has gathered in the Forum, in the centre of Norwich.

We've accessed the city's wi-fi connection with few problems and now have internet access. This log comes to you as I sit in a large foyer overlooking one of Norwich's many churches.

If I was in the office I'd be sitting in a near windowless room, surrounded by TV business journalists. It is a distinct improvement.

I've managed to hook up several wi-fi enabled devices including handheld games consoles and mobile phones.

I have a Belkin Skype phone but as yet I can't connect. It's not the phone's fault but I'm going to persevere.

I'll be testing out various internet telephony solutions and reporting back later in the day.

If you have any questions about wi-fi why not take part in our discussion later in the day. See the box on the right for more details.

Darren Waters 0545 Thursday, 31 August

How can wi-fi change your life? That simple question is the one we are trying to answer by taking the entire technology section to Norwich to work remotely for the day.

Can we work successfully out of the office armed only with laptops and a few other wi-fi enabled gadgets?

Is internet telephony a genuine alternative to mobile phones?

The four-strong Technology team will be trying out a variety of technologies to test if wi-fi working is a reality.

For the purposes of the day we have two Apple MacBooks, for use mainly as video conferencing machines and two laptops running Windows XP which we will use to connect back to the BBC network.

We will also use the laptops to make telephone calls and stay in contact with each other via instant messaging services and Voice over IP.

We also have two Nokia wi-fi-enabled phones to make phone calls and surf the net as well as Nintendo DS Lites and a PSP for the purposes of wi-fi gaming.

There are plenty of other wi-fi enabled devices we could have used for the purposes of the day. The idea is not to test out individual devices, more to get a sense of what wi-fi can do for you.

Will the wi-fi network work? Will we be able to contact the BBC network and file our copy back? Will any of the devices we are bringing be able to surf the net.

We don't know but it will be fun finding out. We'll also be discussing wi-fi and the pilot at Norwich on BBC Breakfast from 0620 on Thursday.

We also want to hear from you about wi-fi - there is a general Have Your Say debate running and you can contact directly in Norwich (see the panel on the right).






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