You want to connect to a public hotspot, such as one run by T-Mobile or Boingo.
Connecting to a hotspot is often a two-step process. First you need to make a connection to the wireless network, and then, in some instances, you need to enter login information. For-pay hotspots such as T-Mobile require you to log in, but at many free hotspots, you won't need to log in.
To make the wireless connection, turn on your PC; it will search for any nearby hotspots and connect to the strongest one. When it makes the connection, you'll see the familiar wireless connection icon in the Notification Area.
However, you won't automatically connect to the hotspot in all instances. Sometimes, XP may not find the connection, or it may attempt to connect to a hotspot that you've previously visited. If you can't make the connection, click the wireless icon, and then click View Wireless Networks. If you see the hotspot on the screen that appears, as shown in Figure 14-12, highlight it and click Connect. If you don't see the hotspot, click Refresh Network list, and it will search for any nearby hotspots.
In some instances, the hotspot may have turned off SSID broadcast. In that case, you'll have to ask at the hotspot for the SSID and use that information to connect.
Figure 14-12. The first step in connecting to a hotspot
If you're visiting a free hotspot, you may not need to do anything else; you'll be connected. But even some free hotspots require login information; if so, get it from the hotspot owner. If you're visiting a for-pay hotspot, or a free one that requires that you log in, launch your web browser. You'll see a login screen. The one pictured in Figure 14-13 is typical. If it's the first time you've logged in, you'll have to enter payment information, and get a user name and password, so click on the applicable link. If you're previously logged in to the hotspot, use your existing user name and password. Once you do that, you'll be able to use the hotspot.
Figure 14-13. The login screen of a for-pay hotspot
Hotspots are becoming nearly ubiquitous, with wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) like T-Mobile providing thousands of hotspots across the country. Any major metropolitan area typically has dozens or more hotspots.
For-pay hotspots are typically available on a per-hour, per-day, and per-month basis. In some cases, you can get them at a reduced rate, if you use other services from the WISP. For example, if you're a T-Mobile phone subscriber, you'll be able to sign up for monthly hotspot access at a reduced rate.
Free hotspots have been springing up as well, with some metropolitan areas building entire hotspot zones, where you can connect for free anywhere within a several-block area. In fact, in some areas, you have a choice of connecting to several different hotspots from a single location.
If you're planning on accessing hotspots when you travel, it's a good idea to search for them ahead of time. Several web sites let you do this, including http://www.wi-fihotspotlist.com, http://www.wifinder.com, http://www.wifimaps.com, or http://www.jiwire.com. They'll help you find free as well as for-pay hotspots. If you're looking for only free hotspots, head to http://www.wififreespot.com.