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Search and the City: Comparing the Use of WiFi in New York, Budapest and Montreal

  • Communication


Over the past five years, the use of mobile and wireless technology in public spaces of cities around the country has grown exponentially. There has been little analysis of the ways in which the use of the wireless Internet via WiFi may differ from that of the wireline Internet. This paper compares the results from a six-month survey of the use of WiFi hotspots in New York, Budapest and Montreal. It is hoped that further analysis of these survey results will contribute to a more acute understanding of the ways in which the user patterns of particular modes of Internet access may differ internationally. The major research questions addressed in this paper are: 1) How is WiFi being used in public spaces, by whom, where, for what purposes?; 2) How does the use of WiFi differ from other communication technology?; and, 3) How is the use of WiFi similar or different across cities internationally? This paper makes the following arguments based on the survey data: first, WiFi is an important factor in attracting people to specific locations; second, the use of WiFi highly localized in that it is often used to search for information relevant to oneÕs geographic location; third, there are significant differences in the way that WiFi is used across a variety of locations including cafes, parks and other public spaces; fourth, at present, WiFi users are, for the most part, young, male and highly educated displaying the characteristics of early adopters of technology; and, fifth, there is a convergence in the ways in which WiFi is used internationally in some respects, however there are also important differences in the reasons for these uses as well divergence in other respects.

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