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WarDriving in Victoria - a hotspot seeking experience along the beautiful coastline

It was August, the cold and unfavorable vacation season to the locals in the Southern Hemisphere. Yet, it is a heaven to us who live in the tropical weather. A great escape to the opposite of the long, hot and humid summer. Besides, we wanted to see the Twelve Apostles, one of the greatest natural wonders in the world that had recently became eleven pieces. It is located at the far end of the Great Ocean Road, a 450Km scenic drive along the south west coast of Melbourne that covers many spectacular ocean views.

As busy as many other online businesses, we need to deliver our personalized customer service round the clock. Despite we've got support people at home, being out of touch for more than 24 hours is not an option. In the course of planning our trip, we knew that dial-up Internet service was still pretty popular in Australia. So we'd brought a phone cord for our laptop with a built-in modem port. We had also brought a TurboTenna 11N PRO in the light of finding and accessing the WiFi hotspots. The kit consists of a TurboTenna 007GT, a Buffalo 802.11b/g 54/*125 Mbps PCMCIA card, and a piece of 6FT RF cable.

The TurboTenna 11N PRO was so light and handy that it made the packing with little problem, it was easy to stow in the traveling bag for checking-in with our flight. Although we forgot to bring the RJ45 Ethernet cable, we later found that it was deemed unnecessary as the broadband access charges of the hotels, motels and caravan parks we stayed were either too costly or no such thing at all.

As soon as we arrived the Melbourne International airport, we rented a car and started our WarDriving journey. We unpacked the TurboTenna 11N PRO and setup the TurboTenna 007GT behind the windscreen pointing sideway and run the RF cable to my laptop. As we drove through the central business district, there were several WiFi signals picked up by the NetStumbler. As you might expect, these SSIDs were from the offices and hotels nearby and they were either encrypted or password protected. A little bit out of our expectation, we didn't detect any public hotspots in the city on our way to Geelong that we expected to pay for the WiFi access.

As we were moving around the winding Great Ocean Road to Adelaide and swinging back to Melbourne via the Western Highway over two thousand kilometers, we passed through Geelong, Lorne, Apollo Bay, Portland, Mount Gambier, Meningie, Keith, Narcoorte, Horsham and Melton and experienced WarDriving highlighted below:

Geelong - At a McDonald's near the tourist information centre, we detected a strong WiFi signal as we swung the TurboTenna 007GT around in the car that it was actually coming from the Telstra broadband wireless from the McDonald's. Access charge was A$5 for the first 15 minutes and 20 cents per minute thereafter or A$14 an hour. Nothing else for free.

Lorne - Couldn't find any near the beach area and found a few up the hills in the residential area. We're able to get 3 SSIDs at Signal/Noise above -75dBm, good enough for a pretty stable wireless connection - 2 open and 1 locked (encrypted).

Apollo Bay - Due to the experience at Lorne, we didn't expect to get anything around the beach area. The only difference was that there were many shops along the beach road so we tried once again anyway. As we pulled up at the beach parking area and started WarDriving, 2 unlocked SSIDs were discovered with 1 having a relatively stronger signal, probably originating from the shops behind. We beamed the TurboTenna 007GT at slightly tilted angle to avoid the interference of the passing vehicles. The poor battery of the laptop dried out after a couple of hours as there were too many emails to respond.

Portland - A good variety of SSIDs were picked up by the TurboTenna 007GT near the public toilet facing the dockyard, a spot separated from the shopping area nearby and yet close enough to the potential WiFi signal sources. It gave a bit of privacy of WarDriving to keep away the curious eyes of the passerby. There were paid (hotspot) and unpaid wireless access, the choice was pretty obvious, wasn't it?

Mount Gambier (Cape Nelson) - We stayed in Cape Nelson to see the beautiful river and to enjoy the river cruise but there was no hotspot there. The closest hotspot that we thought we could get was in Mount Gambier, a city about 35km from Cape Nelson. At an average speed of 100km per hour, it took us a bit more than 20 minutes to get to the city. Considering it'd take another 20 minute going back, we decided to do WarDriving at night to avoid the traffic and experience the real taste of driving for the hotspots - exciting and fun! As we got off the dual carriage highway and turned left into the main road, we slowed down to allow the TurboTenna 007GT to do the job. After we passed a couple of traffic lights, several SSIDs popped up with the strongest one open to the garage behind. We turned around and slowed down a bit more further to make sure that we could stop in the right spot to catch the signal. We spent two hours before returning to Cape Nelson.

Meningie (Lake Albert) - A beautiful town at the coast of Lake Albert, particularly charming during the sunset while you could see the sun turning into a yolk and slowly sinking into the waters as the sky closing into complete darkness. We stayed at a motel near the waterfront. There was no telephone in the room nor any access to the Internet. Having had a great barbecue in the open during the sunset, we set off to find the hotspot in town. Although Meningie was not a big town, it had a fair chance of having many WiFi enabled homes of the professionals who worked in the hospital nearby. This assumption didn't go wrong. as soon as we entered the middle class residential area, several SSIDs popped up. We enjoyed the company of a starry night while we processed the orders which kept hitting our online store.

Keith - Couldn't find anything free but detected a community hotspot service that popped in several disparate locations. They all shared the same SSID but access was impossible even if we'd found some unencrypted sweet spots. It was likely that the community hotspot operator has imposed access restriction using the MAC address of the WiFi client devices. Apparently we were not on the list.

Naracoorte (Cave) - Attracted by the bat caves, we arrived the town in the morning and switched on the WarDriving gear. We didn't wait for too long before the first couple of SSIDs appeared on the radar screen. We decided to follow the strongest signals but they were fading as we drove on. Unable to turnaround immediately, we pinned down the spot in the map and continue to approach the little roundabout 500 meters ahead. As soon as we got there, a new SSIDs greeted us with a growing signal. We pulled up right across the roundabout and we suspected that the signal was coming from a home office nearby. Another 2 hours online work. We enjoyed WarDriving as much as the bat caves.

Horsham (Halls Gap) - Having enjoyed a great day in experiencing the mountain and valley of the Grampians National Park, we arrived Horsham in the evening. We should have stayed in Stawell or Ararat on our way to back to Melbourne, but prior WarDriving experience in Keith was slightly disappointing and so we decided to stay in a bigger town and hoped that we could increase the chance of getting connected, especially there were loads of email awaiting to respond. However, our assumption didn't pay off since we had only picked up a few SSIDs but they all seemed to have MAC address protection. Perhaps there wasn't a correlation between the number of accessible hotspots and the size of the town.

Melton - Our last stop before reaching Melbourne. It was raining at night, the town didn't get us any luck of finding a hotspot. So we dived into the suburb to try again. Thanks to the great sensitivity of the TurboTenna 007GT, it took us to the right spot by following the path of growing signal strength. The rain didn't make any significant distraction from the speed and stability of wireless connection, although the power level wobbled a little while we shut down all the windows. We found that it worked best when a window was open no matter how small the gap was. The big pile of emails disappeared as the battery dried out.

In summary, it's been a great WarDriving experience. Fun and cost effective. We were lucky enough to find the hotspots quickly in most of the towns we visited but we would anticipate to discover more if we continued delving deeper into it. Although some quantitative data are far from complete, we conclude that WarDriving is fun to stay connected traveling in Victoria.



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