Wi-Fi has become very popular due to a few factors -
the falling cost of broadband connections, proliferation
of laptops and development of wireless standards.
Also, isn't it cool to be connected to broadband Internet
while sipping coffee at your favorite coffee shop?
So, what do you need to be connected via Wi-Fi?
First, you need to equip your computer with a wireless card
(many laptops come with one included).
Second, you need to be connected to a compatible
access point in your vicinity. To simplify, it's the
device that's REALLY plugged into the Internet, but which
is able to extend this connection to the neighboring area.
That's where things get interesting: who provides
the actual connection? Several options exist.
Just to clarify the above 2 choices:
in the first case you are not really using "Wi-Fi"
ISP service - you are simply turning a regular broadband connection
into a wireless one.
In the second case you are truly a Wi-Fi customer. However,
the availability of the service depends on your location. For example,
Boingo customers can use their Wi-Fi-enabled laptops at
many "Starbucks" coffee shops.
But just a couple of blocks away the connection may not
be available! Then again, you can easily alternate between your commercial
Wi-Fi provider at the airport and coffee shop and "free" nodes wherever
you find them.
- "Amateur" connections. Yourself or your neighbor
might plug a wireless router into a regular
DSL or cable
router thus extending their reach.
If you did it yourself, you simply made your life easier (or
but you still have to pay for the DSL/Cable
connection in your house.
If your neighbor did it, well... you don't have to pay.
There are different viewpoints as to whether or not this
legal. Some providers threaten those who are willing
to "share" their connection with legal actions. Others
explicitly allow this.
Incidentally, there are organizations that share
information on the availability of amateur (read - free) "hot-spots" -
check nodedb.com, for
- "Commercial" network connections. Alternatively, you can sign up
for a Wi-Fi plan with a company that provides a network
of "hotspots" (places in whose vicinity you have to be
in order to have a connection). Check out
Boingo for one
These plans come in two versions: "pay for play"
where you only pay when you need to use somebody's "hot spot"
and "monthly subscription" (self-explanatory).