The Wifi Nazi

That’s a reference to Seinfeld, incidentally. No Wifi for you! I’m not actually accusing the Singaporean authorities of attempting mass extermination of wireless network customers.

Yesterday I was in Singapore airport’s amazing new Terminal 3. As departure lounges go, it’s simply the most comfortable, spacious, organised and luxurious example that I have ever seen. If any of my readers are planning to do a Tom Hanks and spend ten years living in an airport, I recommend T3 at Changi. Anyway, I wanted some wireless, so I cranked my laptop up and was heartened by the promise of “Free WIFI”.

Unlike Hong Kong Airport’s free wireless, Singapore expects you to register and create a user account. Fair enough. However, some bright spark has written the system such that you do not choose your password when you create the account. And neither will it tell you your password when you’ve completed registration. It will only send the password to you by text message.

Now, that’s great. Except my mobile phone’s battery was completely dead because when I was packing for Singapore I’d only just returned to Hong Kong from three weeks on the road, I was hellishly jetlagged, and I completely failed to move my charger from the big suitcase to the small suitcase.

But wait! Here in the small print there is a link: “I do not have a mobile phone”.

I clicked on it. A window popped out. “If you do not have a mobile phone, you can still use the airport’s free wireless. Simply call ….”, and then a phone number. Oh, right. How?

In truth, I am being churlish because I thought this was all so silly and unnecessary. Why not just give me the password on the screen? Or log me in automatically so I can retrieve the password by e-mail? It can’t be for identification. I carry a prepaid SIM that I use for such things anyway, so that I can provide a mobile phone number in total anonymity should I need to.
Actually, the Internet facilities in T3 are extraordinarily good – there are free, unrestricted (by Singaporean standards) Internet machines all over the terminal, and several desks where you can get AC power and cabled Internet for free, without registration, providing you’re carrying your own patch cable.

In fairness, it’s probably good assumption that any passenger with a laptop will have a mobile phone as well. However, good user interfaces should always provide a second option for such things, because forgetful doofuses like me do exist.