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Commentary: The Greek road warrior

If you think it's difficult to get a wireless connection in the U.S., try getting one overseas. In part two of his column, Basex chief analyst Jonathan Spira shares his connectivity frustrations during a recent international business trip.

To read part one of Jonathan's column, click here

Continuing eastward, I arrived in Athens at the new Athens International Airport, "Eleftherios Venizelos" (named after the Greek statesman). As I deplaned, I checked my mobile (in vain) for any indication of a usable GPRS signal.

About the author

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and chief analyst at Basex, an analysis firm that specializes in collaborative business knowledge in the enterprise. Click here to contact Basex.

I knew the airport was approximately 33 km south of the city, so I hoped that I would be able to access GPRS once we got closer. I thought the fact that our T-Mobile (U.S.) account executive had introduced Internet roaming with TeleStet, the Greek mobile operator, two weeks prior to my trip to Athens was a wonderful coincidence. [The word telephone comes from the Greek tele, for "afar, far off" and phon, for "sound, voice."]

The airport, it should be noted, is well suited to the road warrior, with Wireless Internet Zone (WIZ) service sprinkled throughout the facility. Access costs 10 € for three hours, which can be used during a 30-day period. In addition, there are five strategically located kiosks offering free Net access. As an inbound traveler, I didn't have the time to check out Net access at the airport more thoroughly.

I was truly looking forward to seeing Athens as the city prepares for the Summer Olympics, as well as my hotel, the 130-year-old Hotel Grande Bretagne, which stands across from Constitution Square, the House of Parliament and the National Gardens. It is also within walking distance of the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, the Monastiraki Flea Market, and the Parthenon.

As part of Starwood's Luxury Collection of 75 of the world's best hotels, it promises "The Best of All Worlds" and I was hoping that the online world would be part of the promise.

Me (at check-in): Do you have Internet access in the rooms?
Clerk: Yes, we have ISDN...
Me: (To myself) ISDN, hmmm -- that is something I haven't thought about in ages.
Clerk: (quickly adds) ...and if you don't have a modem, we will lend you one.
Me: (To myself) Wow, that is service.

As I was settling in, the doorbell rang and I was proffered an ordinary RJ-11 telephone cable by a smiling staff member. I smiled back, since I had already noticed the Ethernet connection on my desk. I would learn later, however, that I should have seen the arrival of this cable as an ominous sign.

Meanwhile, no still GPRS. But that was no longer crucial, as I had in-room broadband -- at least, that's what I thought, until I fired up my browser, and nothing happened. But I was in Athens, and my host, Siemens, had scheduled a two-hour tour of the city before dinner at a Byzantine estate. So I put my connectivity thoughts to the side for the time being, and proceeded to enjoy Greek hospitality.

Back in the room sometime later, I was finally able to access the Net. Slowly. Very, very, slowly. In fact, memories of my recent trip to the Swan Hotel in Orlando danced in my head.

A call to the front desk brought news of Internet problems "in the city." Not very promising, but it was too late to do anything but sleep and hope for the best. [Unfortunately, at 20 € per day, this was one of the most expensive per diem charges I have seen for in-room Internet access.]

The next day started on a bright note; Net access seemed a bit faster, albeit sporadic (at one point, we hit 128 kbps, but there were periods of up to ten minutes without any connectivity). Since I was scheduled to speak at a Webinar from my hotel room later in the week, the prospect of intermittent connectivity was rather unsettling.

There was still no GPRS, and I was receiving conflicting e-mails from various T-Mobile representatives as to whether or not there actually was a roaming agreement in place for Greece. As it turns out, the service is indeed supposed to be working, and T-Mobile is trying to find out what precluded my use of the service during my visit.

For the duration of my trip, the in-room Net access worked most of the time (with annoying ten minute interruptions every so often); the hotel's management assured me that these problems were outside of their control and didn't charge me the access fee during my stay.

More mysteriously, according to our dedicated T-Mobile corporate support rep, no data charges were listed as pending from my London mishaps with GPRS roaming, so perhaps the billing systems were just as screwed up as the access.

And so it was, no data charges from London, and no data in Greece. All the road warrior wants is what the warriors of ancient Greece sought: power, in this case computing power. Is that really too much to ask?

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