Thursday, February 07, 2008

Google's problems with wi-fi hotspots in the UK

There are three main providers of wi-fi hotspots in the UK;
  • BT Openzone
  • T-Mobile
  • The Cloud
BT Openzone and T-Mobile have an agreement which allows their users to use each other's networks. I'm a BT Openzone user but it is typically a T-Mobile zone I end up logging in through (T-Mobile provide the wi-fi in Starbucks, for example).

Here's the catch. T-Mobile is a German company. The servers that support the wi-fi clearly have an IP address that Google associates with Germany.

If you look at the iPhone / iPod Touch's unique Google Mobile screen there's no easy way to change country either. I use my iPod Touch a lot on wi-fi and frequently have to struggle to de-German my results.

There are some other twists too. National Express is a very large travel company over here in the UK; they run thousands of buses and coaches (think Greyhound) and many important train services too. In fact, National Express recently won the franchise for the important East Coast line (that hooks London into the east coast of the United Kindgom) and brought free wi-fi to all their passengers.

Free wi-fi on long train journeys is great news! Google results in... Swedish are less hot. Google currently associates National Express' wi-fi with Sweden.

It isn't just Google's search results which are effected. Google does a lot of content changes that are aligned with geo-detection. For example, I made a post to this Blogger account yesterday from a National Express train and had a lovely Swedish GUI to content with.

Google's struggles with correctly identifying the location of the searcher/ap user seem particularly noticable right now. This is a problem is only going to increase as more and more people access the web over mobile products. My ideal scenario would allow me to pop out of our office in Munich or Paris, saunder down to the local cafe, pull out my iPod Touch, connect to the wi-fi and get to English language content despite the fact I'm somewhere in mainland Europe.

4 comments:

Chris Cathcart said...

i think if you log in through iGoogle that it redirects you to your local countries engine.

This certainly fixed the browsing for me on my touch whilst on the train.....

Jonathan Beeston said...

Isn't the National Express wifi free because no sane person would pay for it? Whenever I'm on the East Coast train I end up using the 3G connection on my phone. But I suppose iPhone users don't have the luxury of a 3G link, do they?

Chris "I love free Public wifi and despise paying for it" Estes said...

Having to switch back and forth would get really old very quick. I have never done this in Europe but I do fly alot and notice the big differences in locations here in the type of results I get. I couldn't imagine if it switch languages.

I hope you guys get the bugs worked out. Hey I would settle for bugged system for the US transit systems.

Do you have to pay for the wi-fi service?

Richard said...

I'm on a national express train from Edinburgh to London Kings Cross right now, and I can confirm that Google and also Facebook start displaying their text in Swedish - the wifi is free, (though it bugs you for an email address when you first connect, in order that National Express can spam you)

I'm glad I found your post because my first thought was that someone from Sweden had hacked into all my accounts!