Saturday, January 20, 2007

Wireless Hot Spots

I am unabashedly amazed with wireless hot spots. To think that I can walk into a local coffee shop or library, turn on a laptop computer, and instantly be able to surf the internet at a relatively high speed strikes me as one of the most obviously advantages of the recent advancements in wireless technology. This past year I picked up a personal digital assistant (PDA) that is equipped with wireless technology, allowing me to use a stripped-down version of Internet Explorer to access information through wireless hot spots just like laptops and desktop computers. With my little wireless-enabled PDA I quite literally am able to hold the entire internet in the palm of my hand, allowing me to watch videos, check my email, or text message friends. It comes in handy again and again, whether I’m eating with friends and we want to know what movies are playing to checking my email while waiting for my bus (at a bus stop that’s conveniently located near a library’s wireless hot spot).
One of the only drawbacks of wireless technology is that wireless-enabled devices like my PDA or most people’s laptops need to be fairly near to a wireless hot spot in order for the connection to be established. This leads to many people roaming around, looking for good connections. The search for wireless hot spots has even lead to “war driving,” a practice of questionable legality where people drive around in their cars with laptops setup to search out unlocked wireless networks, both public and private. Many different businesses are picking up on the trend, offering wireless hot spots in coffee shops, restaurants, and retail stores.
Many businesses are nice enough to provide wireless hot spots for free, though it’s usually a good practice to patronize these places if you use their wireless connection to encourage them to keep their access free. Libraries can be great for this service, as can some coffee shops. Some chains offer free wireless at all of their locations, making it pretty easy to track down free wireless hot spots. Some websites even keep track of these free hotspots, working with Mapquest or Google maps to provide maps of free hot spots.
A few other businesses, especially coffee shops, offer wireless connections with purchases, but most of the other wireless hot spots require payment to access the service. This can come either through a subscription to the service provider or through a credit card payment, though if you’re not a subscriber these hot spots can get expensive quite quickly.