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

: Flying Solo"> Now, mind you, I live and breathe by the hot spots whenever Im on the road. But many times I compute alone. One friend of mine, a high-tech power user in his own right, recently admitted as I told him of my recent travails that hes never used his laptops (nor even his PDAs) wireless capabilities while on the road. "The security risks just seemed too high," he said. "And what happens when the signal is poor?"
Normally about that time, I would have shifted into my security-shouldnt-be-an-issue-if-you-use-a-VPN rap or begun singing my use-iPass-or-Boingo-they-solve-a-lot-of-headaches song.
When it comes to remote access, Im a believer in VPNs and aggregators as the best and most readily available providers. iPass is upping the ante for enterprises on the security side with its Policy Orchestration security program, and now we have T-Mobile deploying 802.1x security for its customers. But the "who you gonna call" factor is the stumbling block. More than once, Ive found hot spots where all thats hot is the coffee. And help? The counter help can tell you all about what goes into a great decaf latte but Wi-Fi? A clerk at Starbucks once told me "its got something to do with the Internet. I dont know anything about it. They just told me they have it here." Which brings us back to our story. On that fine Monday morning in Cincinnati, my hot-spot experience showed me just how on-point my friends concerns are and how far hot spots still have to go. By 8 a.m. I was power-hiking down to one of many strip malls, in a suburb where strip malls proliferate, to visit Panera Bread, which promised free latte on Mondays and free Wi-Fi every day of the week. I collected my free latte, bought a bagel so as not to appear a total freeloader, found a table near an outlet, powered up the Vaio and settled back for a morning of productivity. The sight of the other Wi-Fi denizens packing up their lattes and laptops should have been my first clue. No signal. "No problem," I smugly chuckled to myself, eyeing yet another strip mall across the street. "Theres a Borders over there with a T-Mobile hot spot." So I finished my free latte, hiked over to the Borders Café, ordered a coffee for good measure, found a table near a wall outlet, powered up the Vaio and prepared to be productive. And I was—for exactly two hours and 45 minutes during which time I finished two more coffees. Then, suddenly, AOL Instant Messenger popped up to tell me it was trying to reconnect. It couldnt. What? T-Mobile has never failed me before. It was surely just a glitch. I only needed to get to the bottom of it. Fortunately over the years Ive learned to troubleshoot most of my own problems at hot spots. Next page: Zeroing out.

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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