For purely selfish commercial purposes, BT have set up a nationwide unsecured wireless network in the UK. If you are a BT subscriber, this means you can get Wi-Fi just about anywhere. I presume you have to pay extra for this privilege, but while this might be good news for some BT customers, this network is an undisciplined, unfettered nuisance for the rest of us.
I first encountered this network using my iPhone. Although I have a certain allowance with BT Openzone per month as part of my plan, I found that I never could log in, so I now rarely try to connect. However, BT Openzone (as well as other BT networks like BT FON) is everywhere and my phone is constantly trying, and failing, to connect. This behaviour is a nuisance, but the iPhone can ‘forget’ networks, so this problem can be solved easily.
Much more serious is the effect a strong, unencrypted wireless network can have on unsuspecting users in their homes. For some reason I can’t fathom, wireless devices prefer to connect to unencrypted networks and will do so without your permission, preferring unencrypted networks like Openzone to encrypted networks which are now standard in the home, especially if you have received your router free from your internet provider (ISP). If your home wireless router goes on the blink or you haven’t configured it properly, you are likely to connect to Openzone or FON rather than your own network. Both Windows and Mac machines will then register that you are connected to a strong signal; it’s only when you try and surf the net that the problems start.
A lot of the time Openzone will not relay the internet as you are not a subscriber, and your browser will show an error message. Often, though, it will show an Openzone or BT FON homepage. Here, they will ask for money to connect you to the internet, which is terrible – you are already paying your ISP for your internet. This has confused more than one client – one went six months paying BT before calling me in.
So watch out – if you cannot connect to the internet, check you are connected to your own network. If a page appears asking you to pay for internet access – don’t.