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Last Updated: Friday, 1 September 2006, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
Wi-fi: Your questions answered
The technology team of the BBC News website spent a day working remotely in Norwich, where the city centre is blanketed in a free wi-fi network.

Members of the BBC Technology team work in Norwich
BBC journalists held an interactive discussion in Norwich library
We asked you to send us your questions via e-mail and we also spent an hour talking to scores of you via instant message, video chat and internet telephony.

Below are the key questions about wi-fi and the wireless service in Norwich that you put to us.


Q: Are there any issues around security when using a wi-fi network like the one in Norwich? Would I be safe to bank online?
Harry Lee, England

A: When you are using a service like the one on Norwich there are deliberately no security settings. It is a totally open network so that anyone can log on and access the internet. Therefore all of the information sent between your computer and the wireless access point could in theory be intercepted.

However, most online banking sites encrypt the user's data using the secure HTTP protocol. You will notice when you logon to your bank account the web address starts https:// rather than just http://, which means that the data is encrypted. Therefore even someone was able to "listen in" to the data sent between your computer and the access point, your data would still be encrypted and therefore

Q: Compared with wired broadband, how reliable is the wireless connection? Would it be suitable for fast-paced online gaming?
CM, London

A: So far the connection in Norwich has been very reliable. The signal strength has been good at all times. It is also fast enough for gaming. We did a short experiment to see if we could play Counter Strike over the net and even using the relatively low speed public connection, we were able to log on and play.

We found the connection to be stable and reliable, and the speed seemed good enough to do internet telephony and video chatting

One minor annoyance for marathon gaming sessions is that the connection is limited to an hour at a time. Although you can logon on again straight away you lose the connection and therefore your access to the game. This is a deliberate feature so the service does not compete with commercial broadband offerings.

Q: Is the internet access restricted, like it is in schools etc, to exclude pornographic sites, for example, as well as FTP and things like that?
Richard, Leeds

A: There are no restrictions on the content you can access over the connection. You can download music, play games, FTP and visit any site. The only limitations are the download speed and upload speeds. For the public these are 256kbps and for public sector workers 1mbps.

Q: If somebody downloads some child porn over one of these city-wide wi-fi networks how can the police track them down?
James Ashwin, Oxford, UK

A: It would be hard to track someone down. However, in the UK at least, most sites that feature images of child abuse cannot be accessed.

Internet Service Providers deliberately block sites that are known to host images of child abuse. This is clearly an important issue that you have raised and one that we plan to look into on the site in the near future.

Q: I wondered whether I am likely to get a constant wi-fi signal when travelling on a train?
Hesan David Yousif

A: Broadband services on trains are still in their infancy and are not particularly widespread in the UK. GNER offers a wi-fi internet service from London to Edinburgh. We had the chance recently to use the system and found it very reliable and very fast.

There will always be issues around wi-fi on the go such as reliability but GNER's service was impressive. GNER and other train operators charge to use wi-fi - unless you are lucky enough to sit in first class.

Q: How can a service like the one in Norwich be free?
Harry, Cotswolds, UK

A: The service is funded as a pilot programme by the Eastern England Development Agency to see what uses local government and the public can make of free wi-fi. The trial ends after two years. But across the UK - and in many parts of the world - commercial services are being launched with blanket wi-fi coverage. Commercial services will also offer faster speeds than free systems like the one in Norwich.

Q: I'm curious about how well the system in Norwich works and how stable it is?
James, UK

A: We found the connection to be stable and reliable. The speed of the service is capped so it does not compete with commercial offerings and every hour you must reconnect - so downloading films is out the question. But the speed seemed good enough to do internet telephony and video chatting.

Q: Can I travel form university to the city centre without losing connectivity?
Baz

A:At the moment there are blank spots in Norwich but more access points are being added all the time.

Q: What is the quality of voice over internet when using wi-fi?
Amyan Sheltawy

The quality always depends on bandwidth - the better your download and upload speed, the better the quality. In Norwich the speed is limited to 256Kbps for the public but we found that very useable.

Q: I'm interested in the reaction from other local wi-fi providers over the free wi-fi in Norwich? It is limited to 256kbps, but still I imagine people will prefer a slower connection for free than an overpriced one for an increase in speed. Not only that but it's zero hassle to set up.
Shedjo

A: That is a very good point you make. It takes seconds to connect to the Norwich service and you are up and running immediately. We spoke to other places in the city offering commercial wi-fi and they all seemed optimistic that they would be able to compete.

All of them had speeds far in excess of the Norwich system and most of them were cafes which offered other services as their main source of business.

There were only a handful of internet cafes in Norwich so the impact was minimal. If a free wi-fi service was launched across London, I would expect there to more of a backlash.


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