Curated Spot Check: Bucharest, Romania

Posted on January 26, 2014

A recent trip to Europe saw us in Bucharest for a Curated Spot Check. If you’ve seen earlier posts, you’ll know this is our way of doing an on-the-ground Wi-Fi assessment of our crowd-sourced curated Wi-Fi service. It involves field measurements, primary research, and data analysis of the Wi-Fi environment, so we can fine tune our local algorithms and better assist our operator customers in delivering the “always best connected” user experience.

The bottom line in Bucharest? It’s a city surprisingly rich with amenity Wi-Fi—that’s the Wi-Fi that’s shared by venue owners and provided for customers and the public. In fact, it is easier to find and get on to Wi-Fi in Bucharest than most other European cities. Here are the highlights:

  • Bucharest locals are high-frequency mobile data users:
    • 30% of the population has a smartphone, a larger number than much of Eastern Europe.
    • 80% of those device owners are heavy Internet users.
    • Many young Romanians consider themselves to be tech-savvy, and there is a thriving resource of engineers and programmers.
  • Bucharest venue/shop owners recognize the importance of smartphone use by their customers and make it as easy as possible to get on and get connected.
  • Bucharest venue/shop owners are not afraid to push the envelope and use technology to leapfrog the competition. We found the shop owners to be proud, talkative, and remarkably clever.
  • Unlike other cities we’ve assessed—and where big international chains and tourism activities typically drive the adoption of amenity Wi-Fi—local Romanian businesses and restaurant venue owners such as City Grill and Trattoria Buongiorno are deploying amenity Wi-Fi as a competitive differentiator and to keep their local high-frequency Bucharester data users happy.
    • When asked about “Why the unencumbered approach to sharing Wi-Fi so openly?”—passwords are increasingly eschewed for access—they countered with “Why would you do it any other way?”
    • The celebrated Old Town establishment Caru’ cu bere (according to Trip Advisor it’s one of the top 20 restaurants in Bucharest) specializes in Romanian cuisine and often has huge crowds in line for a table. They offer amenity Wi-Fi, so time passes more quickly for their waiting—and hungry!—customers.
    • Doncafe shook up the local outdoor market by serving free Wi-Fi at their outdoor coffee kiosks. You don’t even have to be a coffee-buying customer to use their service in plazas or on street corners.
  • The Palace of Parliament, the world’s largest civilian building, is full of open, freely accessible, and password-free amenity Wi-Fi. Home to both chambers of the Romanian parliament and a popular location for conventions, this stunning building makes it quite easy for visitors and governments members alike to get on-line. For example, both the ball room where Olympic legend Nadia Comăneci was married and the balcony from which Michael Jackson mistakenly said “Hello Budapest” to a massive crowd below have ample Wi-Fi signal and impressive Quality of Experience (QoE) scores. One only wonders what would have happed in the Twittersphere if that gaffe happened today.
  • Wi-Fi service extends far beyond the trendy bars, restaurants, and clubs in Old town. It is easily found in tourist locations, museums, concert halls, shopping centers, oil and gas stations, and even some banks.
  • The local telecom operators, Vodafone, Orange, and Rom Telecom also have some active Wi-Fi programs in Bucharest. Most notably, Orange recently installed free Wi-Fi at various hotspots around the city. There are no other municipal or widespread outdoor deployments to speak of.
  • Mobile data packages are relatively inexpensive in Romania, so it is not only cost savings that drive Romanians to be big users of Wi-Fi. In many cases it is to consume rich media indoors and take advantage of a superior indoor data speeds offered by Wi-Fi. This combination of inexpensive mobile data and widely available Wi-Fi makes it easy to be a mobile data customer.
  • When Romanians travel abroad, they are often surprised by how locked down and difficult Wi-Fi can be to access.

After the last century’s intense political changes, the city once nicknamed “Little Paris” is now modern Bucharest. Its urban center is growing, and its Old Town district is being restored. Wireless communications from providers such as Orange, Vodafone, and Cosmo/Rom Telecom and a thriving, complementary, indoor-amenity Wi-Fi ecosystem from the local shop owners and businesses are key components of that modernization.