When you're away from your home or business network and want to find a wireless hotspot, the best way is to do your research before you leave home, because the easiest way to find hotspots is to use the Web. Many Web sites list Wi-Fi-friendly coffee shops, airports, hotels, universities, libraries, and other public places.
Getting the gear
Before you can surf, you've got to have a surfboardin this case, a Wi-Fi card for your laptop. As I mentioned in Chapter 1, most new PCs come pre-con.gured with Intel's Centrino wireless technology. And most new iBooks and PowerBooks from Apple Computer come pre-con.gured with an AirPort card for Wi-Fi access.
But what if you don't have one of these Wi-Fi-ready machines? You're not out of luck. You can pick up a Wi-Fi card adapter at your local computer store, online reseller, or other electronics retailer for under $100. There are a few .avors of Wi-Fi currently on the market: 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g. The "b" is the slowest of them all, and the most prevalent, but that doesn't mean it's too slow. 802.11b is still plenty fast for all but the most demanding of data transfers. That said, my recommendation is to pick up the fastest 802.11 card you can get your hands on (currently 802.11a or 802.11g). You may pay a bit more, but you'll be staving off technological obsolescence for a while longer. In the meantime, the newer, faster cards are also compatible with the (currently more widespread) 802.11b networks.
At Yahoo! Mobile (http://mobile.yahoo.com/wifi), you enter a street address to get a list of hotspots within a certain radius. Google works similarly: Search on the name of your town plus "Wi-Fi provider" for some probable links to information on hotspots in your community, often including mom-and-pop coffee shops and bookstores.
The following Web sites are dedicated to listing hotspots around the world:
Wififreespot: www.wififreespot.com (lists only free Wi-Fi providers)
If you're a creature of habit and pretty much know that you'll always be surfing relatively close to your home base, then you might consider signing up with T-Mobile. In the United States, T-Mobile has Wi-Fi hotspots in Borders bookstores as well as Starbucks, and they've recently announced plans to offer wireless access at 1000 Kinko's locations nationwide.