With a working Wi-Fi card in your computer, the next thing to do is to tune your card to the Wi-Fi frequency being broadcast at the hotspot you've decided to visit. This is essentially like tuning a radio to the frequency you want to hear. Just as a radio station has a frequency and call letters, a Wi-Fi hotspot has a network name, often called an SSID, that you can use to tune to the particular hotspot.
The specifics of setting your Wi-Fi card to a hotspot will differ somewhat depending on the software that comes with the card (see Chapter 8 for more information about this). Figure 3.9 shows Wi-Fi card software that sets up a separate profile for each hotspot. You can store settings for multiple access points and switch between them (the principle is like the preset buttons on a car radio). Generally, the application that does this is started from an icon on the system tray that is part of the Windows taskbar.
Figure 3.9. Using the configuration software that comes with a Wi-Fi card.
You need the network name to connect, so the crucial thing is to set the network name, also called the SSID. Setting the SSID is usually all it takes to connect to a public hotspot. An SSID is shown entered in one type of Wi-Fi card configuration software in Figure 3.10.
Figure 3.10. The crucial step is setting the network name, also called (more technically) the SSID.
In an effort to differentiate itself from everyone else offering Wi-Fi access, you'll find that providers such as Starbucks are now offering some exclusive, free content (such as games and music) in addition to the ability to surf.
You might not know that the name for the T-Mobile Hotspot network is tmobile. In that case you can scan for available Wi-Fi broadcasts using the software that came with your Wi-Fi card. In the software shown in Figure 3.10, this is done by clicking the Scan button.
With the network name (SSID) set, you are ready to open your Web browser. When you do, the welcome screen for the hotspot will open (in this case, as you can see in Figure 3.11, featuring Starbucks as well as T-Mobile Hotspot).
Figure 3.11. You can log on using an existing T-Mobile Hotspot account, or create a new account on the spot.
You can log on using an existing account, or create a new account on the spot. (Be sure to take advantage of any special offers such as the free day of surfing at Starbucks!)
That's all there is to it! From here, you're ready to surf the Web, download email, or whatever. A pop-up window in your browser, shown in Figure 3.12, lets you know you are connected, and provides a link that logs you off.
Figure 3.12. A pop-up window in your browser reminds you that you are logged in (and lets you log off).
This is so much fun, and really very easy. Before you know it, you'll be connected everywhere (see Figure 3.13 so where does the computer end and the latte begin?).
Figure 3.13. It's fun to surf without wires as I sip my latte!
The Absolute Minimum
Here are the key points to remember from this chapter:
You need integrated Wi-Fi, or a Wi-Fi card, for wireless access.
There are a number of different Wi-Fi service providers.
There are also a number of useful Wi-Fi directories on the Web.
Expect to pay for your Wi-Fi access in advance or on the spot.
Connections to a hotspot are made by "tuning" to the network name (SSID) of the hotspot.