Wi-Fi Can Set You Free : Belgrade Knows This Well

26. September, 2011 Culture, Opinion No comments

Belgrade surpasses London in at least one enviable respect: it provides free wi-fi readily available in so many places across the city. As a foreigner who often uses Google Maps to get out of a jam or to satisfy my craving, my dependence on email and Twitter, this can be invaluable.

In Belgrade, I have found that almost every café, restaurant and hotel bar provides wi-fi, often accessible free by use of a generously available password. It is not just Belgrade: even regional towns like Novi Sad and Banja Luka have more free wi-fi than most larger EU cities. This is not how it is in London, where free wireless in public places is still quite limited and, usually, must be bought via mobile phone subscription or a one-off fee.  So while I am quick to make the most of the full online options of my iPhone, I prefer not to pay extra to link up my my phone to my laptop.

I regularly travel abroad, especially within the EU, and my phone bill can skyrocket with extortionate international roaming charges if I forget to turn off the numerous web-accessing functions on my iPhone. When you are used to unlimited online capability at home, it does not feel good to have all your toys taken away when travelling. It literally makes doing business more difficult, expensive and time consuming.

But in Belgrade it is different – and I take full advantage of the free connectivity. I am ashamed to say, I have become a bit of a cheapskate, too, often resorting to hovering in Republic Square or along ‘Silicon Valley’ to soak up the signal from nearby cafés.

On my recent visits to Belgrade I have been quick to take advantage of this free web access, flipping the lid on my laptop at every opportunity in cafés across town. This simple free service allows me the freedom to do business more easily and socialise more effectively than I could without it. Wi-fi means that I can avoid sky-high international roaming charges for logging on, enabling me to check email, get directions to meetings, make online restaurant bookings and a host of other valuable business tools from an endless number of locations. Indeed, many hours have been spent working in coffee shops. I virtually had a regular table at Supermarket – which has to be the most perfect place for me to work in Belgrade.

What surprises me, though, is how lonely it can be working in a Belgrade café. If this were London, it would be hard to find a free table for the number of laptop workers sipping latté’s and catching up on business between meetings. In Belgrade, hardly anyone seems to work outside the office. I am often the lone laptop ranger, piloting my MacBook with a double espresso and some snacks.

The opportunity for remote working is undoubtedly an advantage to Belgrade, but one that the city’s workers don’t seem to have entirely recognised. Or maybe their bosses do not relish the idea of letting their workforce off the leash. Maybe they are not yet comfortable with the idea that it can be more productive for some people to work as they wish, without the constraints and distractions of a busy office.

Why be chained to your desk in a inspirationally barren office when you have recharge your creative batteries by observing life going on all around you. Certainly, I know that I get more done, write more freely, in a social environment such as a coffee shop than I do in the creatively stagnant environs of an office.

The ubiquity of wi-fi is also a catalyst to Belgrade’s rise through the ranks on location-based mobile apps, such as FourSquare, Twitter and Facebook. It is so easy to ‘check-in’ at bars, restaurants and cafes, leaving Belgrade at the forefront of developments in marketing.

I will be back in Belgrade for a fortnight from this week. For much of that time, I would expect to be bent over my trusty MacBook Pro, catching up on emails and writing in one of my favourite café-cum-office spaces. Say hello if you happen to spot me.
Marcus Agar has been commissioned by Wannabe Magazine to write a series of observations. Click for Serbian or for an interview in English or Serbian.

If you like it, please share it:

No comments yet.

Be first to leave your comment!




Your comment:

Add your comment