Say no to WiFi, yes to GPRS

Everybody’s on about the security problems caused by public WiFi hotspots, like in airports, Starbucks and so on. The problem is that it is too easy for other people in your immediate vicinity to eavesdrop on your communications or even to set up fake hotspots and make you connect to those instead of the bona fide hotspots at that location.

The solution is to be really careful about what you connect to. And to use a VPN tunnel into your own corporate network, and to protect your communications that way. In other words, expensive and hard to implement and use.

But, there’s another way, entirely: use GPRS. I just got myself a mobile phone subscription, that not only allows me dirt cheap phone calls, but also up to 1 GB data transfer without extra charge, per month, using speeds “up to” 384 kb/sec. No charge for connect time. All this for around $30 per month.

The practical setup, for me, is this: I’ve got an Apple iBook with a Bluetooth dongle. If you get a new laptop, you’ll probably have Bluetooth built in, making it even easier. On a belt-clip, I’ve got my Sony-Ericsson K750i phone that has been paired with the laptop. Anytime I tell the Mac that my “location” is “on the road” (a two-click effort), it will automatically find the phone, connect to the network and I’m on the Internet using GPRS. Anytime I set the location back to “home” it selects either WiFi or the connected Ethernet cable, according to availability. The time it takes the laptop to change medium can be measured in seconds. I never have to take the phone out of my pocket for all this, either.

On top of all this, I can use the phone itself as an email client and a browser, of course. As long as I don’t exceed that one GB per month of data, I’m cool. (Excess traffic is charged at about 25 US cents per MB, so is to be avoided).

Naturally, using GPRS is not a perfectly secure solution, but at least it’s on par with regular mobile phone systems, and way better than public WiFi.

It’s worth considering, isn’t it?

I have to add here that there are errors in the above. In particular, GPRS is only 56 kbit/sec, but when I was writing the blog entry, I didn’t know the difference, now I do, at least a little bit. UMTS allows 384 kbit/sec. My mobile phone only does GPRS so I’m limited to 56 kbit/sec. Actually, that’s ok. Later I hope to get a computer with a UMTS card in it, getting better speeds that way. In general, even phones with UMTS are said to be inferior to PC cards with UMTS, but I wouldn’t be the expert to take that advice from. Obviously.