- how to choose an Internet Service Provider a site by Gromco


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.
  • "Amateur" connections. Yourself or your neighbor might plug a wireless router into a regular (i.e. wired) DSL or cable router thus extending their reach.

    If you did it yourself, you simply made your life easier (or more portable) 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 practice legal. Some providers threaten those who are willing to "share" their connection with legal actions. Others (like speakeasy) explicitly allow this.

    Incidentally, there are organizations that share information on the availability of amateur (read - free) "hot-spots" - check nodedb.com, for example.

  • "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 such service.

    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).
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.
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