The genealogists' "reporter on the scene," Mike St. Clair, sent an e-mail describing the latest developments of wireless Internet access, or "Wi-Fi," for use by patrons at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. When visiting the Family History Library (and many other libraries), you can now use your own laptop computer or handheld PDA (personal digital assistant) with Wi-Fi wireless networking to check your e-mail, visit genealogy sites, or otherwise surf the web. You can do all this without connecting any network cables; the wireless networking in your device will connect via low-power radio waves to the building's network.
In fact, if all the library's computers are used on a busy day, you can pull your own laptop out of its carrying case and use that instead, as long as that laptop has Wi-Fi network capabilities. You do not need to wait for someone else to give up their seat at a library-owned computer. Even better, the library saves money because it does not need to purchase as many computers; many people would prefer to use their own.
Mike kindly gave me permission to share his e-mail message with everyone. I will add one comment at the end.
Here is a brief update on the status of wireless access for laptop users at the Salt Lake City Family History Library. I'm sending this to you from the library, using web mail.
They are obviously still in testing, but signs are prominently posted asking patrons to help "test the WI-FI today." These signs seem to be posted every day now. The wireless is currently running on 802.11g/b 54 Mbit standard wireless equipment with many access points and good coverage throughout the library. The name of the network that you need to connect to is "FHL Patron." I've used the new wireless network on all floors and have hit no dead spots.
I can see at least a dozen physical access points for this network, spread across all the valid channels. All the equipment used appears to be from Cisco. There are also a lot of other access points visible - probably used for internal library functions, as well as surrounding hotels and businesses, so there is a lot of competition on the air waves, but it works very well. When you first connect, you are redirected to a "sign on" page where you agree to abide by the rules and are then authorized. The links to the rules still aren't working as of today, so I can't tell you what those rules will be.
At present, accessing normal email facilities through Outlook/Outlook Express and the like is blocked, but at least some variations of webmail are working, while others are not. It also looks like the FTP protocol is blocked. That could be a problem for accessing some genealogical data. Remote access to MySQL databases is also blocked, and access to facilities like Remote Desktop. Use of programs like PAF Insight and PAF Wiz, which access FamilySearch via the Internet, worked just fine. In general, access to the web works well. I'm not sure if they are filtering what sites you can go to as I'm not about to try accessing any questionable sites intentionally just to find out! I haven't been blocked from using any valid genealogical site. The response time was very good. Transfer rates were fantastic (500+ KB/second).
I'm not sure about using personal Ancestry.com credentials from the library. Ancestry.com is still working from the library, and my access to ancestry.com seems to be redirected through the library's "subscription" as there is no option to sign in. Use of other subscription databases seemed to work fine.
The bottom line is that users can now bring their laptops and access the Internet while within the library from their own computer, which is a great convenience. Way to go, FHL!!
Mike St. Clair
Thanks for the report, Mike!
As to the comment of "Ancestry.com is still working from the library, and my access to ancestry.com seems to be redirected through the library's 'subscription' as there is no option to sign in," I can tell you that this is normal. Ancestry.com and almost all other online databases that sell online access to libraries automatically sign in any computer that is accessing from a library's I.P. address.
At a library or at most other publicly-accessible networks, all computers share a single I.P. address when accessing remote services. That is, the library's own computer as well as personally-owned laptops carried in by patrons each may have their own addresses assigned while inside the building. However, once those computers connect through the building's gateway to the Internet, a process called Network Address Translation (often called NAT), converts all those signals to one I.P. address. The remote services, including Ancestry.com, see all those computers as one system with one I.P. address.
Most of the online databases don't want each library patron to enter a user name and password. Instead, Ancestry.com and other remote services automatically grant access to any connection from the library's I.P. address. This works well for the library's computers: everyone gains immediate access without having to log in.
The process also works rather well for most personal laptops. From home or from your hotel room, you might not be able to access Ancesty.com because you don't have an account, a user name, or a password. However, when you carry your laptop into any subscribing library, you immediately gain access, no user name or password required. You simply are "piggybacking" on the library's access and I.P. address.
This automatic log-in process is the same most everywhere: the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the New York Public Library, the Boston Public Library, and thousands of smaller libraries around the world have similar network connections. If the library subscribes to Ancestry.com, you normally carry your laptop into the library and can then obtain access to Ancestry.com with no user name or password required.
The problem arises when you don't want to use the library's access; you want to use your own. Because you are sharing the library's I.P. address, you are automatically connected and logged in with the library's normal access. For most people, that's great. For the minority of people who wish to have different access, however, it is a problem. I do not know of any easy solution, other than leaving the library and using someone else's network to access the site you wish to use.
I echo Mike's praise for the Family History Library extending Wi-Fi service to their patrons, and I applaud every library that does so and thereby increases their value to the communities they serve!