Wireless Internet Access

Not too long ago, it would have been inconceivable to walk into your local coffee shop with your laptop under your arm and surf the Web while drinking a latte. Putting aside the fact that beverages and laptops don't mix, wireless Internet access is everywhere and increasing.

Wireless Internet access is provided by a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP). The WISP provides public wireless Internet access known as hotspots. Hotspots provide Internet access for mobile network devices such as laptops, handheld computers, and cell phones in airports, coffee shops, conference rooms, and so on. A hotspot is created using one or many wireless access points near the hotspot location.

Client systems might need to install special application software for billing and security purposes; others require no configuration other than obtaining the network name (SSID). Hotspots do not always require a fee for service as companies use them as a marketing tool to lure Internet users to their businesses.

As of today, hotspots are not everywhere, but finding them is not difficult. Typically, airports, hotels, and coffee shops will advertise that they offer Internet access for customers or clients. In addition, WISP providers list their hotspot sites online so that they are easily found.

Establishing a connection to a wireless hotspot is a straightforward process. If not equipped with built-in wireless capability, laptops will require an external wireless adapter card. With the physical requirements of the wireless card taken care of, connect as follows:

  1. When you arrive at the hotspot site, power up your laptop. In some instances, you might need to reboot your system if it was on standby to clear out old configuration settings.

  2. The card might detect the network automatically. If this is the case, configuration settings, such as the SSID, will be automatically detected, and the wireless Internet will be available. If Internet access is free, there is little else to do; if it is a paid-for service, you will need to enter a method of payment. One thing to remember is to verify that you are using encryption for secure data transfer.

  3. If for some reason the wireless settings are not automatically detected, you will need to open up your wireless NICs configuration utility and manually set the configurations. These settings can include setting the mode to infrastructure, inputting the correct SSID, and setting the level of encryption used.

In addition to using a WISP, some companies such as hotels and cafes will provide wireless Internet access by connecting a wireless router to a DSL or cable Internet connection. The router becomes the wireless access point to which the users connect, and it allows clients to connect to the Internet through the broadband connection. The technology is based on the 802.11 standards, typically 802.11b/g, and client systems require only an internal or external wireless adapter.