Coffee, Tea or Wi-Fi?

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.

/zimages/1/28571.gifLooking 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.