The rest of Part III, "Mobile Computing on the Road," includes a lot of detailed tips, tricks, techniques, and information about connecting using your laptop with Intel Centrino mobile technology and Wi-Fi when you are on the road. This section introduces the basics related to using Wi-Fi on the go.
For starters, as I explained in the preceding section, "Understanding Wi-Fi Networks," it's not enough to find a Wi-Fi wireless access point. Behind the scenes, the wireless access points need to be capable of providing access to the Internet, usually via a high speed cable or DSL connection.
Figure 8.3 shows you a pretty typical example of how this might work behind the scenes.
With your Wi-Fi device happily chugging and ready to go, a good strong signal from a Wi-Fi access point broadcasting its way to you, and a behind-the-scenes Internet connection that the access point is plugged in to, what's next?
Connecting to a public Wi-Fi access point is generally really easy. Usually all you have to do is open your Web browser. In some cases, any Web browser will do, but often you need to use Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Connecting is really quite simple, but I'll be showing you an example of how this works in Chapter 9, "Finding Hotspots."
Paying for It
There are two sides to Wi-Fi. One is the grassroots peoples' movement in which propeller-headed persons (such as the author of this book) put up free Wi-Fi access points that can be freely used by anyone within range. Of course, in my case the range is about 50 feet from my house in a quiet residential neighborhood, so it might help a neighbor or two, but is unlikely to be of much use to anyone else. Seriously, if you want to offer free Wi-Fi using your Internet access, you should take care to set up a network that uses hotspot architecture and protects your private network resources.
The capitalistic, entrepreneurial side of Wi-Fi is what you might meet when you access the Internet via Wi-Fi in public venues such as Starbucks, Borders, hotels, and airports. In some cases, there are no free lunches in these venues! You get charged for wireless access.
On the other hand, some businesses have found that offering free Wi-Fi is a great way to entice customers to stick around for a while and spend more money. In addition, there is a hard-core contingent of idealistic engineering types who see offering free Wi-Fi access as a worthy endeavor. So perhaps sometimes there are free lunches! And when there are, they are really tasty!
Typically, you pay for your access based on how long you use it either with a payment plan, or as you go. If you plan to pay as you go, you'll need to have a credit card handy when you log on to the Wi-Fi network.
Finding Access Points
Where are the public Wi-Fi access points? Why, everywhere and nowhere, like a taxicab on a rainy day.
Actually, the picture is not nearly so bleak, and there are more and more wireless access points every day.
There are also a great number of online tools that help you find access points that meet your needs. Chapter 9 provides a great deal of information about tools you can use to find hotspots, and Appendix B, "Where the Hotspots Are," gives you some specific (and hard to find elsewhere) information about hotspot locations.