Wi-Fi Internet access on the road: problem with sending e-mail

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
April 27th, 2005 • 9:23 pm

Right now I am staying in a nice hotel in England. It’s an old building on a nice 6-acre property in the English countryside. Since it is a rather fancy hotel, however, it also has to have modern amenities, including high-speed Internet access.

Internet access in the hotel is provided through Liberty-i Wireless Broadband Internet. As soon as I opened my PowerBook G4 with AirPort in my room, I was able to see the “Liberty-izone” network, with a signal level of 3 bars out of 4, which is not bad on a Titanium PowerBook. (Maybe I am just lucky and my room is right next to a Base Station!) I had to get a 17-pound pass from the reception, which gives me a total of 24 hours of Internet access over a maximum period of three days. It’s rather expensive, but then, in England, everything is.

The setup process is pretty straightforward. The Liberty-izone network is not protected with a WEP password, but it only gives you access to the Liberty-izone login page, regardless of what web page you are trying to access. Using the passcode on the 3-day pass, you get to a page where you can enter a user name and password, and then you are logged on.

Logging off (in order to save access time) is another matter. There’s nothing that indicates how to do it. Fortunately, I instructed Liberty-izone to send me a confirmation e-mail (which is optional) after I entered my passcode. And the e-mail contained a direct URL link to a page that logs you off. I am not sure whether there is a time-out feature that logs you off automatically if you are inactive for a while, but I’d rather not take the chance. There is also nothing on the Liberty-izone that lets you track the number of hours you’ve used.

I understand and appreciate the effort to do everything through a web-based interface, in order to avoid the use of proprietary (and presumably Windows-only) software. But this interface could still use some work.

Of greater concern to me, however, is the fact that, while browsing the web (including secure web sites and password-protected areas) works just fine, with Mac OS X’s Safari, accessing e-mail features is another matter. I was able to check my various POP accounts in Mail. But when it came to sending mail via SMTP, I hit a snag right away. Normally when I am at home with the PowerBook, I can use either the SMTP server of my local Internet access provider (which does not require authentication, but only works when you are connected via that ISP) or the various SMTP servers that are associated with my e-mail accounts and support password authentication.

Of course, here in England I cannot use the SMTP server of my local Canadian ISP. But the Liberty-izone web site did not provide any information about an SMTP server that might be available to travelling users connected to their network. So I tried to use the SMTP servers associated with my accounts, which all work with password authentication. I know that all these servers work just fine with my setup, because I already use them on a regular basis, even when I am in Canada and have access to the ISP’s SMTP server. Apple provides smtp.mac.com with password authentication for .Mac users with their @mac.com accounts. This is supposed to work anywhere in the world. The SMTP server for my own domain name, mail.latext.com, also supports password authentication, and I use it all the time with my @latext.com accounts. And the Xserve that I have running Mac OS X Server 10.3 in my employer’s office also runs an SMTP server with password authentication for the e-mail accounts that I have on that machine.

Unfortunately, none of these SMTP servers requiring authentication work with the Liberty-izone service, as far as I can tell. Each time I tried sending e-mail using one of these servers, Mail would give me an error dialog saying that the servers didn’t support password authentication, which is obviously untrue. So there must be something in the Liberty-izone service that breaks the password authentication process. (All these SMTP servers worked fine with password authentication when I was in France using my parents’ ADSL access.) And this is rather problematic, because it means that people cannot use their e-mail client for sending e-mail while connected to Liberty-izone!

I know that a lot of people, when travelling, use a web-based e-mail account with a service such as Yahoo! or Google Mail. But I have no reason to do this, since I have my PowerBook with me, with Mail configured to use all my regular e-mail accounts. On the contrary, having to use a different e-mail account when I am travelling would be a major pain in the neck!

Fortunately, I was able to discover, purely by accident, an SMTP server that worked with the Liberty-izone service. A couple of weeks ago, when we first arrived in England, we were staying with an uncle who only had a dial-up connection with Wanadoo.co.uk. I had trouble sending mail from some accounts with that service too, but solved these problems by using the SMTP server that he was using when connected to Wanadoo, i.e. smtp.wanadoo.co.uk (without authentication).

Since Mail remembers all the SMTP servers that you use and provides a list of them as an alternative when sending mail fails, I saw the smtp.wanadoo.co.uk server in the list of SMTP servers when I started getting the error messages in Mail with Liberty-izone. And I thought that, since I was in England, there was a small chance that Liberty-izone was sharing some Internet ressources with one of the larger providers, such as Wanadoo.co.uk. So I just selected the smtp.wanadoo.co.uk and tried sending mail with that SMTP server instead. And it worked! Mail appears to be able to send e-mail for all my accounts without requiring authentication through smtp.wanadoo.co.uk while I am connected to the Liberty-izone service.

I don’t know if it is pure luck, but it certainly solved the problem for me this time. Still, I figured I’d try to contact the Liberty-izone to inquire about SMTP servers just the same. I submitted a inquiry via their web form 48 hours ago, and have yet to hear from them… If I hadn’t been lucky and found that smtp.wanadoo.co.uk was working, I would definitely be stuck, and not too happy about it! I am on holiday and e-mail is not crucial for me as it might be for some travelling businessman, but still… I don’t think the failure to support password-authenticated SMTP connections is acceptable.

In addition, I should note that the Liberty-izone service is not very fast. It peaks at 64 KB/s or so, which is only about 10 times faster than dial-up. Not exactly “high speed” in my book.

In a couple of days, I’ll be back home and back to 28 kbps. But this European trip has been an interesting experience as far as Internet access is concerned.

4 Responses to “Wi-Fi Internet access on the road: problem with sending e-mail”

  1. LoonyPandora says:

    Hope you enjoy your stay in England :)

    Where about in the country are you? You never know, might be just around the corner from myself!

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    LP: Was mostly in the London area. (Was in Lincolnshire earlier in April.) Back home now :).

    Radardan: I didn’t try complaining to the hotel desk, simply because I was trying to enjoy my vacation… If I had been there for work and on a tight schedule, things might have been different. I’ve already received suggestions about SSH tunnels and other work-arounds. It still seems unacceptable to me that SMTP servers with password authentication are not supported out of the box.

  3. Radardan says:

    Hey Pierre, you are encountering the bane of travelers with portable computers. This was a BIG issue two years ago, much less so last summer.

    Did you try complaining to the hotel desk? They’ve heard this complaint many times, I’ll wager.

    But the workaround I can recommend is via the email service offered by GoDaddy, a registrar here in Scottsdale, AZ. They allow 250 addresses per day per email account via their SMTP Relay service — a service which works on port 80 and port 3535 as well as the normal port.

    I’ve put a number of clients on this and we’ve had no problems, basically, except for user errors. (ahem).

    This means the user never has to hassle techie stuff since wherever they plug in, they’re sending email without issue.

    And, basic email is only $10 per year.

  4. Exxtravagant » Bijna perfect… says:

    […] gegevens kunt vinden. Dus ik toets in “liberty-izone smtp” en kom uit op een weblog (https://www.betalogue.com/2005/04/27/wi-fi-internet-access-on-the-road-problem-with-sending-e-mail/) van nota bene een Apple-gebruiker die precies hetzelfde heeft meegemaakt bij deze provider en bij […]

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