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Why Go Wireless?

Wireless technology — from home phones to cellphones to computers — has been developed in response to the unmet needs and desires of those wishing to roam freely while staying connected. Wireless phone handsets meet the needs of those who want to leave the kitchen or bedroom while conversing; cellphones meet the needs of those desiring freedom of travel while maintaining their ability to reach out and touch — or be touched by — someone. That's environment and genius coming together, meeting the needs of the populace; so it is with Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity).

Exploring the advantages

Shortly after the first phone cord was connected to a computer (tethering both it and the user to a small and specific radius), somebody began trying to figure out how to cut the cord. When the first laptops hit the market, the movement toward a wireless Internet connection hit high gear. Included among the needs and desires that wireless Internet connection technology strives to meet are the following:

  • Convenience: This is the most attractive of all wireless Internet attributes. When using a dial-up connection, it's sometimes difficult to find a suitable spot from which to connect the cord. Because Wi-Fi does away with the cord or cable, everyplace within range of the wireless access point is suitable for use.
  • Privacy: To a certain extent, this attribute goes hand-in-hand with freedom and convenience. Some RV parks that require dialup computer users to sit in the office or laundry room, and truck stops usually relegate dialup users to a noisy coffee shop or noisier TV room. When using Wi-Fi you can, if you choose, sit comfortably in the privacy of your own home on wheels.
  • Speed: Download speeds for wireless broadband Internet connections are typically as much as ten to twenty times faster than dialup.
  • Ease of use: Well, it really is easy to set up and use, but as with anything, there's a learning curve.
  • Reasonable cost: If you've already got a laptop or PDA, you can easily and inexpensively adapt it for wireless Internet access. And Internet services, are usually reasonably priced, too.

So . . . what, no disadvantages?

Well, yes, for all its affirmative attributes, Wi-Fi does have a few disadvantages. Among them, the following three are primary:

  • Range: Because of federally mandated power limitations — as well as the attributes of a high-frequency radio signal — Wi-Fi has a limited range. Another factor influencing range is interference; in a truck stop or RV park, that's the usual result when signals are blocked or bounced by trucks, trailers, and other RVs.
  • Roaming: Unlike cellphone providers, most of those providing wireless Internet access have no roaming agreements. When, for example, you sign up for service with Flying J, you need to be in or near a Flying J facility in order to access the Internet. Flying J and others do provide access in areas other than their own facilities — and they're working on other solutions as well.
  • Security: Okay, you're sending data using a radio signal, which means someone could intercept your transmissions.

Examining your options

If the allure of an untethered connection to the Internet beckons you forward, you might wonder about your choices and options. Currently, the primary methods of connecting to the Internet that are free from the tether of a phone cord include the following:

  • Wi-Fi: Believe it or not, even though it's fully functional — and its use and availability are rapidly expanding — this technology's still in development. Wi-Fi uses a high-frequency, low-power radio signal to transmit and receive data. To use Wi-Fi, you must be within range of the access point transceiver, which is known as a hotspot.
  • High-speed cellular: On a cellphone, data's often carried separately from voice; usually you need a data-service subscription in addition to your voice-service subscription.
  • Satellite: Requiring the use of some fairly expensive and specialized equipment (not to mention a commitment to a hefty monthly subscription), this option is most popular with those living full-time in their RVs.

Taking the plunge

Of all the options available to you, the easiest and least expensive method of making a wireless connection to the Internet is Wi-Fi. In order to get started down the Wi-Fi highway, you need the following:

  • Wi-Fi-enabled computer: There are two methods for enabling a laptop or PDA for use in a wireless environment:

Wi-Fi adapter: By using an inexpensive adapter, wireless capability can be added to almost every laptop and most PDA devices.

Integrated card: Most new laptop computers, and quite a few PDA devices, come equipped with a built-in wireless card.

  • Hotspot proximity: You need to be within the coverage area of the radio transceiver, or access point, that has a wired or satellite connection to the Internet.
  • Wireless Internet service provider: Better known as and often referred to as a WISP, most hotspot operators are WISPs or they contract with WISPs for service. In most cases, you can buy an hourly, daily, monthly, or annual subscription to a WISP.
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