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July 12, 2003

T-Mobile's HotSpot wireless service

On a whim, when I was last back in Atlanta I decided to sign up with T-Mobile's HotSpot wireless internet service. I was intrigued by the service when I heard about it earlier this year, but a couple of things stopped me:

  • The service is mostly in Starbucks, and that's not a place I've ever spent in time in.
  • The service seemed expensive - $6 an hour, or $40 a month.

Two things changed my mind. First, since I started with Earthlink, I'm putting in two weeks a month alone in CA, and spending some of that time in Starbucks seems preferable to my 22x14 foot extended stay hotel room. Second, T-Mobile announced that current T-Mobile phone customers can get the service for $20 a month.

$20 a month is not bad. At $6 an hour, you'd use that up in a little over three hours of surfing. (I believe if you don't have some kind of a plan, there's a $6/1hr minimum.)

It turns out there's a Starbucks just downstairs on the ground floor of the Earthlink HQ in Atl. Since I'm a squatter when I'm in Atl, the Starbucks is a reasonable place to work from time to time. (At least if you sit inside. Sitting outside in July in Atl isn't recommended).

So far, I've used the service from perhaps four different Starbucks. Most Starbucks seem like reasonable places to hang out for a while, and the service works reasonably well. (Ironically, the service in the Sierra Madre Starbucks where I'm sitting right now appears to have gone out while I've been typing this.)

I did discover one oddity yesterday. I was down at a Starbucks in Pasadena over my lunch hour, and tried to send mail. I'm was using an Earthlink SMTP server, in fact an authenticated connection - and I was surprised to get an error when I tried to send mail. I was on IRC with the our day shift sysadmins, and after a bit of debugging, we discovered the problem: T-Mobile intercepts outbound SMTP connections. The server giving me the error was not an Earthlink server, but was apparently a T-Mobile mail server.

I can't tell if they block or intercept anything else. All my web connections have worked fine with no proxy setting, and I've been able to do SSH connections; everything else works. Still, it's a little disturbing to know that T-Mobile is intercepting my email. I suppose I could set up an SSH tunnel to get around that.

(And the internet connection here came back after about 10 minutes. Something must have died .. I had to re-authenticate before I could get back in..)