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real brick-and-mortar store down the street). Vendors include companies
such as D-Link (www.dlink.com), Belkin (www.belkin.com), and Sony
290 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network
Chapter 16
Going Wireless Away from Home
In This Chapter
Discovering public hot spots
Tools of the hot spot trade
Getting espresso and Internet at the same place
Connecting wirelessly on the road
Checking out what™s coming soon

T hroughout Wireless Home Networking For Dummies, we focus ” no big
surprise here ” on wireless networks located within your home. But
wireless networks aren™t just for the house. For example, many businesses
have adopted wireless networking technologies in order to provide network
connections for workers roaming throughout offices, conference rooms, and
factory floors. And just about every big university has begun to build (or has
already completed, in hundreds of cases) a campus-wide wireless network
(CAN) that enables students, faculty, and staff to connect to the campus net-
work (and the Internet) from just about every nook and cranny on campus.

These networks are great and very useful if you happen to work or teach or
study at a business or school that™s got a wireless network. But you don™t
need to be in one of these locations to take advantage of your wireless net-
working equipment. You can find literally thousands of hot spots (places
where you can log onto Wi-Fi networks) across the United States (and the
world, for that matter) where you can connect your laptop or handheld com-
puter to the Internet via wireless local area network (LAN) technologies.

In this chapter, we give you some general background on public hot spots,
and we discuss the various types of free and for-pay networks out there. We
also talk about tools that you can use to find a hot spot when you™re out of
the house. Finally, we talk in some detail about some of the bigger for-pay hot
spot providers out there and how you can get on their networks. The key
thing to remember about hot spots ” the really cool part ” is that they use
802.11 wireless networking equipment. In other words, they use the same
kind of equipment that you use in your wireless home network, so you can
take basically any wireless device in your home (as long as it™s portable
enough to lug around) and use it to connect to a wireless hot spot.
292 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network

Discovering Public Hot Spots
A wide variety of people and organizations have begun to provide hot spot
services, ranging from individuals who have opened up their home wireless
networks to neighbors and strangers to multinational telecommunications
service providers who have built nation- or worldwide hot spot networks
containing many hundreds of access points. There™s an in-between here, too.
Perhaps the prototypical hot spot operator is the hip (or wannabe hip) urban
cafe with a digital subscriber line (DSL) and an access point (AP) in the
corner. In Figure 16-1, you can see a sample configuration of APs in an airport
concourse, which is a popular location for hot spots because of travelers™
downtime when waiting for flights or delays.


Figure 16-1:
An airport area
is a perfect
location for
a hot spot,
access Public Access
points. Points

Virtually all hot spot operators use the 802.11b standard for their hot spot
access points ” we don™t know of a single one anywhere in the world that
uses the newer standards. This is good because the majority of wireless net-
working equipment in use today uses this standard. Note: If your laptop or
handheld computer has an 802.11a-only network adapter in it, you won™t be
able to connect these hot spot operator™s networks. If you use 802.11g equip-
ment, you should be able to connect because 802.11g equipment is backward
compatible with 802.11b. Head to Chapter 2 for a refresher on the 802.11
Wi-Fi standards.

Of the myriad reasons why someone (or some company) might open up a hot
spot location, the most common that we™ve seen include the following:
Chapter 16: Going Wireless Away from Home

In a spirit of community-mindedness: Many hot spot operators strongly
believe in the concept of a connected Internet community, and they
want to do their part by providing a hop-on point for friends, neighbors,
and even passers-by to get online.
As a municipal amenity: Not only individuals want to create a connected
community. Many towns, cities, boroughs, and villages have begun
exploring the possibility of building municipality-wide Wi-Fi networks.
There™s a cost associated with this, of course, but they see this cost as
being less than the benefit that the community will receive. For example,
many towns are looking at an openly accessible “downtown Wi-Fi network”
as a way of attracting business (and businesspeople) into downtown
areas that have suffered because of businesses moving to the suburbs.
A way to attract customers: Many cafes and other public gathering
spots have installed free-to-use hot spots as a means of getting cus-
tomers to come in the door and to stay longer. These businesses don™t
charge for the hot spot usage, but they figure that you™ll buy more
double espressos if you can sit in a comfy chair and surf the Web while
you™re drinking your coffee.
As a business in and of itself: Most of the larger hot spot providers have
made public wireless LAN access their core business. They see (and we
agree with them) that hot spot access is a great tool for traveling business-
people, mobile workers (such as sales folks and field techs), and the like.
They™ve built their businesses based around the assumption that these
people (or their companies) will pay for Wi-Fi access mainly because of the
benefits that a broadband connection offers them compared with the
dialup modem connections that they™ve been traditionally forced to use
while on the road.

Another group of hot spot operators exists that we like to call the unwilling
(or unwitting!) hot spot operators. These are often regular Joes who have
built wireless home networks but haven™t activated any of the security mea-
sures that we discuss in Chapter 10. Their access points have been left wide
open, and their neighbors (or people sitting on the park bench across the
street) are taking advantage of this open access point to do some free Web
surfing. Businesses, too, fall into this category: You™d really be shocked how
many businesses have access points that are unsecured ” and in many
cases, that their IT staff doesn™t even know about. It™s all too common for a
department to install its own access point (a rogue access point) without
telling the IT staff that they™ve done so.

We tend to divide hot spot operators into two categories: free networks
(freenets) that let anyone associate with the hot spot and get access without
paying; and for-pay hot spots that require users to set up an account and pay
per use or a monthly (or yearly) fee for access. In the following sections, we
talk a bit about these two types of operators.
294 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network

Freenets and open access points
Most open access points are just that: individual access points that have
been purposely (or mistakenly) left open for others to use. Because this is
essentially an ad hoc network created by individuals ” without any particu-
lar organization behind them ” these open hot spots can be hard to find.
(Note: This is different than an ad hoc network that doesn™t use an access
point, as we describe in Chapter 7.) In some areas, the owners of these hot
spots are part of an organized group, which makes these hot spots easier to
find. But in other locations, you™ll need to do some Web research and/or use
some special programs on your laptop or handheld computer to find an open
access point.

The more organized groups of open access points (often called freenets)
can be found in many larger cities. See a listing of the Web sites of some of
the most prominent of these freenets in Chapter 20. A few of the bigger and
better-organized ones include

NYCwireless (www.nycwireless.net): A freenet serving Manhattan,
Brooklyn, and other areas of the metro New York City region
Bay Area Wireless Users Group (www.bawug.org): A freenet in the San
Francisco Bay area
AustinWireless (www.austinwireless.net): Serving the Austin, Texas

Many freenets are affiliated with larger, nation- or even worldwide efforts.
Two of the most prominent are FreeNetworks.org (www.freenetworks.org)
and the Wireless Node Database Project (www.nodedb.com). These organiza-
tions run Web sites and provide a means of communications for owners of
hot spots and potential users to get together.

These aren™t the only sources of information on open hot spots. The folks at
802.11 Planet (one of our favorite sources of industry news) run the Web site
802.11Hotspots.com (www.80211hotspots.com) that lets you search through
its huge worldwide database of hot spots. You can search by city, state, or
country. 802.11Hotspots.com includes both free and for-pay hot spots, so it™s
a pretty comprehensive list.

You™re going to have a lot more luck finding freenets and free public access
points in urban areas. The nature of 802.11 technologies is such that most off-
the-shelf access points are only going to reach a few hundred feet with any
kind of throughput. So when you get out of the city and into the suburbs and
rural areas, the chances are that an access point in someone™s house isn™t
going to reach any place that you™re going to be . . . unless that house is right
next door to a park or other public space. There™s just a density issue to over-
come. In a city, where there might be numerous access points on a single
block, you™re just going to have much better luck getting online.
Chapter 16: Going Wireless Away from Home

Although these lists are pretty good, none of them are truly comprehensive
because many individuals out there who have open hot spots haven™t submit-
ted them. If you™re looking for a hot spot and haven™t found it through one of
these (or one of the many, many others online) Web sites, you might try using
one of the hot spot-finding programs that we discuss in the upcoming section
“Tools for Finding Hot Spots.”

Some of the hot spots that you find using these tools, or some of the online
Web pages that collect the reports of people using these tools, are indeed
open, albeit unintentionally. As we discuss in Chapter 10, a whole wireless
LAN subculture is out there ” the wardrivers ” who recreationally find open
access points that should be closed. (Check out www.wifimaps.com for
some results of their handiwork.) We™re not going to get involved in a discus-
sion of the morality or ethics of using these access points to get yourself
online. We would say, however, that some people think that locating and
using an open access point is a bad thing, akin to stealing. So if you™re going
to hop on someone™s access point and you don™t know for sure that you™re
meant to do that, you™re on your own.

For-pay services
Freenets are cool. And, although we think that freenets are an awesome con-
cept, if you™ve got an essential business document to e-mail or a PowerPoint
presentation that you™ve absolutely got to download from the company
server before you get to your meeting, you might not want to rely solely on
the generosity of strangers. You might even be willing to pay to get a good,
reliable, secure connection to the Internet for these business (or important
personal) purposes.

And trust us: Someone out there is thinking about how he can help you with
that need. In fact, a bunch of companies are focusing on exactly that busi-
ness. It™s the nature of capitalism, right? You™ve got a need that you™re willing
to part with some hard-earned cash to have requited. And some company is
going to come along, fulfill that need, and separate you from your money.

The concluding sections of the chapter talk about a few of these companies,
but for now, we just talk in generalities. Commercial hot spot providers are
mainly focused on the business market, providing access to mobile workers
and road-warrior types. And many of these providers also offer relatively inex-
pensive plans (by using either prepaid calling cards or pay-by-the-use models)
that you might use for non-business (your personal) connectivity. (At least if
you™re like us, and you can™t go a day without checking your mail or reading
DBR ” www.dukebasketballreport.com ” even when on vacation.)

Unless you™re living in a city or town right near a hot spot provider, you™re prob-
ably not going to be able to pick up a hot spot as your primary ISP, although in
some places (often smaller towns), ISPs are using Wi-Fi as the primary pipe to
296 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network

their customers™ homes. You can expect to find for-pay hot spot access in a lot
of areas outside the home. The most common include the following:

Hotel lobbies and rooms
Coffee shops and Internet cafes
Airport gates and lounges
Office building lobbies
Train stations
Meeting facilities

Basically, anywhere that folks armed with a laptop or a handheld computer
might find themselves, there™s a potential for a hot spot operator to build a

Opening up to your neighbors
We™re not talking about group therapy or wild identifying these open access points. In other
hot tub parties. Wireless networks can carry areas, where broadband access is scarce,
through walls, across yards, and potentially neighbors pool money to buy a T1 or other
around the neighborhood. Although wireless business-class, high-speed Internet line to
LANs were designed from the start for in-build- share it wirelessly.
ing use, the technology can be used in outdoors
We think that both of these concepts make a lot


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