Welcome to Israel – the wifi nation. It starts when you arrive at Ben Gurion Airport and are treated to free wifi. Then you get on the train; for over a year now, Israel Railways provides free wifi. The Kavim bus that I take to work offers free wifi.
It doesn’t always work and the speed can be slow, but for basic news and email reading, free public wifi is fine. Enter a restaurant in Tel Aviv and you will likely be served free wifi. Many office buildings offer the same.
This was not the case on my recent overseas trip to Florida via Madrid. The first 15 minutes of wifi are free at Madrid-Barajas Airport. Miami International Airport charges $4.95 for 30 minutes and $7.95 for 24 hours. Most of us spend between an hour to 3 hours at the airport, so the temptation is to pay $7.95 while waiting to board a flight. Better to just find a TV and watch CNN.
As I sat in a Tel Aviv cafe today, a friend agreed. “It’s like air. They just don’t get it in Europe and the US.” There are many things in Israel that need to be fixed, but free wifi access is one area where we are ahead of the game. According to recent news reports, Tel Aviv has over 80 wifi hotspots around the city in places that serve tourists – beaches, attractions and parks.
For those of us who live here and have the typical 3 GB monthly data plans, we’re in luck; we rarely have to use them. At home, I connect to my ADSL line, at work I have free wifi, same on the bus and train. I only use my monthly data when there’s a weak signal – a few times a month.
If Europe wants to develop a serious high tech sector, they need to follow our lead. There is no tech where there is no easy mobile wifi access. The same goes for Florida, which relies on tourism and serving the retirees. (Florida does get it when it comes to low taxes – good weather isn’t enough to attract savvy New Yorkers!) Instead of preaching to us, the Europeans should be taking notes (though I would welcome a successful peace process).
There is a lot to kvetch about in Israel and many of the Times of Israel blogs find a large audience by doing this. I wouldn’t trade Israel’s problems and challenges for those of any other nation. Our quick response to the need for free mobile internet access is one of many things to be proud of in Israel, the free wifi, startup nation!