Coffee, Tea or Wi-Fi?

By Carol Ellison  |  Posted 2004-10-29 Print this article Print

Wireless broadband access is great when you're on the road. But sometimes, the only thing that's hot at a Wi-Fi hot spot is the coffee.

Once upon a time—a little over a week ago as a matter of fact—I found myself in a northern suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, with this Web site to update and no broadband connection to help me do it. This is the story of how yours truly, with her trusty Vaio-con-Wi-Fi adapter under her arm, remote access accounts for both Boingo and iPass on her desktop, a credit card in her pocket, and a pair of sturdy hiking shoes on her feet, made a half-mile trek to hot-spot heaven in search of broadband nirvana—and what she didnt find when she got there. Dont get me wrong: Over the years, Ive come to love wireless hot spots. Theyve given me freedom—freedom from having to look up dial-up local access numbers whenever Im on the road, freedom from racing off to Radio Shack for a phone cord whenever Ive left mine at home (which I was wont to do BWF—before Wi-Fi), and, most of all, freedom from watching my life pass in front of me while trying to preview a Web page over dial-up or send an e-mail with a PowerPoint attachment.
Its not that I consider hot spots my friends. Those of us who wear Wi-Fi stripes tend to think of them more as a birthright. If God never wanted humankind to connect through hot spots, he wouldnt have allowed Intel to create Centrino, now would he? And so, those of us who dont have Centrino inside do have some form of Wi-Fi adapter. We tend to check the signal strength in our system trays as regularly as we do the time.
We are the undaunted and those of us who arent authenticating over EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol) or launching some form of VPN are, well…just willing to hang the risk computing in the wild. Thankfully for us, retailers have discovered that we RF scions will go nearly anywhere for a signal and, along the path, spend cold, hard cash on any number of retail purchases. Looking for a Wi-Fi hot spot? Click here to use eWEEK.coms hot-spot finder Unfortunately for them, were not everyone. Retailers dont offer Wi-Fi out of the goodness of their hearts. The profit motive looms large. But profits could be higher if hot spots werent such a no mans land of tech support when something happens to go wrong. Next page: Flying solo.

Carol Ellison is editor of's Mobile & Wireless Topic Center. She has authored whitepapers on wireless computing (two on network security–,Securing Wi-Fi Wireless Networks with Today's Technologies, Wi-Fi Protected Access: Strong, Standards-based Interoperable Security for Today's Wi-Fi Networks, and Wi-Fi Public Access: Enabling the future with public wireless networks.

Ms. Ellison served in senior and executive editorial positions for Ziff Davis Media and CMP Media. As an executive editor at Ziff Davis Media, she launched the networking track of The IT Insider Series, a newsletter/conference/Web site offering targeted to chief information officers and corporate directors of information technology. As senior editor at CMP Media's VARBusiness, she launched the Web site, VARBusiness University, an online professional resource center for value-added resellers of information technology.

Ms. Ellison has chaired numerous industry panels and has been quoted as a networking and educational technology expert in The New York Times, Newsday, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio's All Things Considered, CNN Headline News, WNBC and CNN/FN, as well as local and regional Comcast and Cablevision reports. Her articles have appeared in most major hi-tech publications and numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.

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