The internet is our constant companion. Not only are smartphones almost ubiquitous, but the Wireless Broadband Alliance predicts the number of public WiFi hotspots will reach 5.8m globally this year.
So keen are people to get online, in fact, that around the world you’ll find a growing number of WiFi hotspots emanating from things that God never intended to act as WiFi hotspots. Here are eight.
The “Internet of Things” is becoming the internet of living things. Researchers in North Wales plan to fit a sheep flock with wireless sensors called (of course) “iSheep”.
It’s intended to help farmers track their flock with a glance at a connected device. "Sheep get lost. Even with the best fences sheep jump over to find the best grass. You can't blame them,” farmer Gareth Jones told the BBC.
The same article makes clear that the technology isn’t restricted to sheep, either. As Professor Davey Jones, of the Environment Centre Wales, said: “It could be that we tag the badgers so we can look for TB risk.”
WiFi, though, can only do so much. “I've been brought up that every morning, we look at the sheep,” added Farmer Jones. “There's nothing like looking at a sheep." He’s right, you know.
This experiment came about in March 2012 when Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty (BBH) Labs partnered up with Front Steps Shelter to equip 13 homeless people in Austin, Texas, with 4G MiFi devices called “Homeless Hotspots”. The public were encouraged to donate $2 (£1.30) in exchange for 15 minutes of WiFi access; the proceedings went to the person carrying the hotspot.
Saneel Radia, former Head of BBH Labs, explains in the YouTube video below that it was a replacement for selling newspapers. “That just seems to be under pressure because, ultimately, it’s print media, and most people just don’t buy newspapers when they own an iPad, or something”.
A backlash inevitably followed. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a former president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, argued that street newspapers don’t give homeless people dignity just by being a way to make money, but by “showcasing their work as creators, as artists, as people of ability”. Having a homeless person stand around carrying telecoms equipment just turns them into “a means to someone else’s connectivity – if we cannot see the difference, then as a society we have truly lost our moral compass”. The trial ended after four days.
Image: Renew London.
The bins have eyes. In August 2013, the City of London ordered Renew London to abandon a trial due to concerns over privacy, after a dozen bins with LCD advertising screens turned out to be inadvertently monitoring passers-by. Smartphones set to automatically scan for available WiFi hotspots were connecting to these bins as people walked past, letting Renew London build up a database of people and their locations as they moved around the city.
Renew’s CEO, Kaveh Memari, stopped the trial but said he didn’t see what all the fuss was all about, writing in an open letter: “I’m afraid that in the interest of a good headline and story there has been an emphasis on style over substance that makes our technology trial slightly more interesting than it is.” He told the BBC that the device had just recorded “extremely limited, encrypted, aggregated and anonymised data”. But he added that the public would be made aware if their smart bins got any smarter.
If you’re mountaineering in sub-zero temperatures at high altitudes and would like to post a tweet or send an email, you can do thanks to TeliaSonera. In October 2010, Nepal’s Ncell, a subsidiary of TeliaSonera, launched a 3G base station on Mount Everest, 5,200m above sea level, making it the world’s highest WiFi hotspot. The signals even reach to the peak of Everest, 8,848m up, the highest point in the world.
The world's highest internet cafe. Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Richard Branson’s still throwing his billions at space schemes, including a partnership with former Google Satellite executive Greg Wyler’s satellite-internet company OneWeb.
OneWeb aims is to the make internet accessible to those without it (for example, those in developing nations, or passengers travelling on airliners) by sending 648 satellites into space using Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne. If it’s successful, the plan is to eventually have up to 2,400 satellites orbiting the Earth, creating internet access for those below.
In a CNBC interview, Branson said: “We believe this is a very efficient way of getting satellites into space. It's much more efficient than the big rockets of the past. We can literally take off every three or four hours." Since they’ll be orbiting at 1,200km above the Earth’s surface, it’ll knock Everest’s record for the highest WiFi hotspot out of the park.
Cemeteries such as Oak Grove in Paducah, Kentucky, and San José in Granada, Spain, have installed free WiFi. Pam Spencer, Paducah public information officer, insists the reasons are valid as it is “to allow people to use the web to help with genealogy research”.
This may look sinister, but actually he's just carrying an iPad on a stick. Image: Getty.
San José doesn’t bother sugar-coating its reasons saying “mourners in vigil rooms will now be able to use their mobile telephones, computers and other electronic devices while they watch over their loved ones.”
A biblical re-enactment park in the village of Hoshaya in northern Israel allows tourists to don biblical robes, ride the rolling hills of Galilee on a WiFi-hosting donkey and browse the web. The hotspot is in a sling around the donkey’s neck.
The park’s manager, Menachem Goldberg, hopes the gadget will connect the younger generation to ancient Galilee life as it will allow them to snap, upload and tweet holy stuff to share online. “You take some pictures, you want to change your picture on Facebook – you can do it,” he told Associated Press.
Facebook and Google are now battling it out to bring internet access to every corner of the globe using drones.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided to buy Ascenta, a Somerset-based company that specialise in solar-powered drones, for $20m (£12m). Mark Zuckerberg unveiled plans to take the internet to the skies using solar-powered drones, satellites and laser beams.
Last year, Google bought US high-altitude drone maker Titan Aerospace for an undisclosed sum. Titan Aerospace is building two types of solar-powered drones with a battery life spanning for years. Initial commercial operations for these drones should start sometime in 2015.