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Going Public with Wi-Fi Hotspots

The beauty of Wi-Fi networking is its mobility. It gives you the freedom to wander far from home and still have a solid connection to the Internet. You can find Wi-Fi hotspots around the globe, with the United States, Europe, and Asia leading the way as they add thousands of new access points every year.

In airports

Second to your hotel room, where do you spend most of your time during a business trip? It's probably not in the meeting or at the conference. More likely, it's the airports you pass through, especially with the increased security that forces you to arrive earlier and stay longer. Of course, layovers add to the fray.

That's why it's a good idea to know, before you leave on your trip, which airports offer what Wi-Fi services. Some may offer free access, a combination of limited free access and commercial access, or commercial access only.

As one example, Sprint PCS Wi-Fi offers service in the Kansas City, Salt Lake City, and Louisville airports. It charges $9.95 for 24 hours or $49.95 per month for unlimited service. If you're stuck in one of these airports for several hours, ten bucks may seem like a bargain as you pull out your laptop to check your e-mail.

Here's a list of major airports and some of the wireless Internet services they offer:

  • Chicago O'Hare International. About 15 or so hotspots are spread across the airport, mostly in individual airlines' frequent-flyer lounges. T-Mobile, Telia HomeRun, and iPass are among the service providers.
  • Los Angeles International Airport. Boingo Wireless, iPass, and T-Mobile all offer Wi-Fi service. Boingo covers six terminals.
  • Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. Boingo, T-Mobile, iPass, and Wayport provide coverage in various areas throughout the airport.
  • Atlanta Hartsfield International. T-Mobile and iPass provide most of the wireless access, which is located mainly in airline lounges.
  • Denver International Airport. iPass, T-Mobile, and AT&T Wireless are the mile-high Wi-Fi providers. tabmark

Obviously, any of these services can change in an Internet minute. However, these snapshots of Wi-Fi access available in the larger airports at least gives you an idea of what's out there.

In hotels

It was a big deal when in 2000 you found a hotel offering high-speed wired Internet access. It beat a slow dial-up connection and you may have been able to work better in my hotel room.

Now it's almost expected, especially among mid- to high-end hotels, that you'll have wireless Internet access from your room and possibly the lobby, too. For example, these large hotel chains offer some services:

  • Hyatt. Most of the chain's more than 200 hotels have Wi-Fi access. The service is available in the lobby, other public areas, and some guest rooms. T-Mobile provides the service.
  • Marriott. More than 1,200 of Marriott's hotels have wireless Internet access. Hotels include Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Renaissance Hotels & Resorts, Courtyard, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, Fairfield Inn, and SpringHill Suites. Access is available in hotel lobbies, meeting rooms, and public spaces.
  • Hilton. More than 50 Hilton hotels have Wi-Fi access. Many of them are centered in New York City, Chicago, and throughout California.
  • Sheraton. Owner Starwood Hotels & Resorts has Wi-Fi connectivity in more than 150 Sheraton, Westin, and W hotels in the United States. It also provides access to about 40 properties in 10 countries and regions across Asia Pacific.
  • Omni. More than 30 U.S. Omni hotels provide Wi-Fi access in guest rooms. More hotels will be added, and guests without a wireless card can rent "wireless bridges" though the front desk, which means you rent a USB access point, and then plug it into your laptop's USB port.
  • Best Western. Yep, you read that right. Even the lower end of the hotel industry is embracing Wi-Fi. And how: Best Western plans to install wireless access in 2,300 properties throughout North America.
  • Microtel Inns & Suites. More than 200 of the chain's hotels offer free Wi-Fi access. (The deal's even better: They offer free local calls and free long-distance calls within the continental U.S. Could this be the beginning of the end of the industry's notorious guest phone bills?)
  • Choice Hotels. Wireless access is a standard feature for the company's Clarion Hotel and Comfort Suites brands. The two chains have more than 600 hotels.

In the (city) clouds

A new movement is equipping many city centers with Wi-Fi access. The Wi-Fi service areas, called city clouds or hot zones, are a way for cities to differentiate themselves from other business and tourism centers. In many cases, the hot zones are dual use, with police and fire workers using it along with residents and visitors.

It's good PR: If you can check your e-mail on your Wi-Fi–enabled laptop or PDA while visiting a city's downtown, aren't you more likely to remember your visit and have good feelings about the hospitality? Covering several or more blocks beats isolated hotspots at coffee houses and other limited locations.

Here's a small selection of cities and states offering wireless access:

  • New York City, New York. In the Big Apple, thinking big is part of living. Officials are planning a Wi-Fi network for public safety employees. The price tag: a staggering $500 million to $1 billion.
  • Washington, D.C. You can get free Wi-Fi access from the front of the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the Capitol visitors' site. The nonprofit group deploying the network hopes to have a hot zone stretch from Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument soon.
  • Seattle, Washington. If you're sleepless in this city, sometime in the future you might be able to access what city officials hope will be border-to-border wireless Internet access. Of course, this city has what seems like a limitless number of coffee shops ready to provide you with Wi-Fi coverage in the meantime.
  • Spokane, Washington. Its dual-use Wi-Fi network covers a 100-block area that is a mile long and a third of a mile wide.
  • Rio Rancho, New Mexico. When completed, this city's network will cover 103 square miles.
  • Austin, Texas. A volunteer effort is underway here to keep Wi-Fi free.
  • Grand Haven, Michigan. Just down the road from your humble author's abode, this small city along Lake Michigan has a wireless network with 6 square miles of coverage. Wi-Fi access is available 20 miles into Lake Michigan. (Yes, that's over the water!) Residential service begins at $20 per month.
  • St. Cloud, Florida. The city is offering free Internet access, with its hot zone covering an area about 20 city blocks.
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