WIFI

Where to Find Wi-Fi Hotspots

The Wi-Fi hotspot is nothing short of a phenomenon for
wireless computing. Since it made the internet publicly
available, this technology enabled laptops to be truly
mobile computers.

While not every country has picked up on this technology
yet, there are several major cities and areas in the world
where it has been adapted. Below is a list of some of the
typical places where you can find Wi-Fi hotspots.

1. Coffee shops

- have gained popularity as places where people can meet
and have a good cup of coffee. But today, coffee shops have
now also become hubs for internet users. The good thing
here is that, they offer free and unlimited internet
connection to their patrons usually by just making a
minimum purchase.

2. Hotels

- more and more hotels offer this service which is mainly
geared towards business travellers. They can be accessed in
hotel rooms and lobbies. The only downside here is that
they are usually paid separately from the room rates and
can be quite expensive.

3. Airports

- Wi-Fi hotspots can now be found in major international
airports. This is also mainly geared towards business
travellers who may want to check their e-mail just before
boardingthe plane.

While hotspots are great places to get free internet
connection, people should also be aware that most of them
are unsecure.

It means that the data that anyone sends through the
network may be read by hackers and could be used for
criminal activities such as identity theft. Users can
protect themselves by not visiting websites that require
sensitive information when connected to unsecure networks.

What You Need to Connect to Wi-Fi Hotspots

Most modern laptops, mobile phones and PDAs are Wi-Fi
enabled which makes them easier to use in Wi-Fi hotspots
without modifying the software and hardware of their
gadget.

But for those that are not equipped with the needed tools
to connect to a hotspot, here are some things that they
should have in order to do so.

1. Wireless adapter

- this is the primary requirement in being able to connect
to a hotspot. The wireless adapter is the one that
transmits data to and from the computer. Again, most modern
laptops are equipped with this. But for those without an
adapter, they can buy a wireless card or even a USB adapter
as an add-on.

2. Have the same IEEE802.11 protocol as the hotspot

- IEEE802.11 is a standard used by Wi-Fi. Under this are
different protocols that address specific wireless
networking needs such as speed and range. Although modern
wireless adapters are backward compatible, meaning they can
handle new as well as old protocols, older ones may have
problems connecting to hotspots using a protocol different
from what they use.

Therefore one has to make sure that either his/her laptop
is compatible to the one used by the hotspot, or get a
laptop that supports different protocols to connect to
different hotspots easily.

3. A good location in order to connect to a hotspot

- one also has to be within the hotspot’s range. The rule
of thumb when connecting to a hotspot is that the closer
one is to the source, the better. Laptops usually indicate
the signal strength so finding a good range should be easy.

What is Wi-Fi and What are Wi-Fi Hotspots?

Wi-Fi has been the buzzword among techies and the
not-so-techie people alike for quite some time now. And
while that is the case, not everyone knows exactly what it
means and what it stands for.

For starters, Wi-Fi is a brand of wireless technology that
is owned by the group called the Wi-Fi Alliance.

The group’s aim is to improve the interoperability of
wireless local area network (WLAN) products by following
the IEEE 802.11 standards.

This technology is usually used by mobile computers
although more and more mobile phones and PDAs are designed
to be Wi-Fi-enabled. As a wireless network, Wi-Fi does away
with the Ethernet cables that used to connect one computer
to another as well as one computer to the internet.

Another jargon in the wireless LAN community is called the
Wi-Fi hotspot, simply known as hotspot. A hotspot is any
public area that offers free or paid wireless internet
connection.

Some of them cover only a small area (e.g. hotel lobbies),
while there are those that cover an entire city (e.g.
municipal hotspots).

While having hotspots has made cheap and even free internet
connection possible, there are also security issues that
accompany this technology.

Some hotspots are intentionally or unintentionally
unsecured so that any data sent over the network is
unencrypted. Because of this, malicious users can sniff
(i.e. monitor) data sent by others who are in the same
network.

But several solutions such as having a Virtual Private
Network (VPN) are available, although they not widely used
because of the costs of implementing them.

The IEEE802.11 Standard and Its Protocols

It was in 1997 when the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers (IEEE) created the standard for
wireless local area networks (WLANs).

The standard became known as IEEE802.11, with the 802.11
coming from the name of the group who oversaw its
development. Under this standard are several protocols
developed over the years.

Below is a list of them.

1. 802.11

- also known as the Legacy protocol, this is the original
protocol created in 1997. It operates at 2.4 GHz and has a
data rate of 1 and 2 Mbit/s. Its range was limited to 20 m
and 100 m, in indoor and outdoor settings, respectively.

2. 802.11a

- was released in 1999. It operates at 5 GHz to move away
from the 2.4 GHz operating frequency of the Legacy. Its
range only offers a slight improvement from its predecessor
with a range of 35 m indoors and 120 m outdoors. It is,
however, fast with a data rate of 54 Mbit/s.

3. 802.11b

- also released in 1999. Just like the Legacy, it operates
at 2.4 GHz. It has a slightly greater range than the
802.11a, but is slower. The b only has a data rate of 11
Mbit/s.

4. 802.11g

- marries the characteristics of the a and the b. It has a
data rate of 54 Mbit/s like a and has the same range as the
b with 38 m indoors and 140 m outdoors. It was released in
2003.

5. 802.11n

- is set to be released on June 2009. It can operate on
either 2.4 or 5 GHz frequencies. It is fast with a data
rate of 248 Mbit/s and has an indoor range of 70 m and up
to 250 m outdoors.

The History of Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is a relatively new type of technology that is just
starting to attract a wide following worldwide. Some
consider it to be one of the most significant innovations
in technology since the internet came to the mainstream.

Because of it, computers are now able to connect to the
internet and to other computers wirelessly.

The precursor of today’s Wi-Fi was developed sometime in
the early 1990s by the Netherlands-based company NCR
Corporation/AT&T (which later became known as Lucent &
Agere Systems). Called WaveLAN, it was originally intended
to be used in cash registers.

Several competing standards prevented the immediate success
of having wireless networks. However, with the development
of the IEEE 802.11 standard and the release of its first
protocol in 1997, this technology slowly but surely came
into the mainstream.

Since then, several protocols were released and several
more will be released to address issues such as range and
speed.

The first protocol released in 1997, now known as the
Legacy mode, operated in the 2.4 GHz frequency. The
throughput and data rate are slow by today’s standards,
with only 0.9 and 2 Mbit/s, respectively. 802.11 a and b
came two years later in 1999 with the a protocol offering
faster speeds while the b provided a wider range.

The elements of the two were later merged in 2003 when the
802.11g protocol was released. The new protocol offered the
speed of the a and the range of the b.

Newer protocols are currently under development. The n, set
to be released mid-2009 provides greater speeds and almost
double the range of the a/b/g protocols. Another one, the
802.11y, is set to be released in mid-2008 has the same
speed as the g protocol although the y has an outdoor range
of as much as 5 kilometers.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Wi-Fi

Just like everything else in the world, Wi-Fi has its set
of advantages and disadvantages. Below is a low down of how
Wi-Fi may or may not work for you.

The biggest thing that attracts people to Wi-Fi is that one
can find a wireless connection almost everywhere, in larger
cities at least. This aspect makes mobile computing a
reality.

Aside from that, one can connect to a Wi-Fi network for
free or for a minimal fee. There are coffee shops and
restaurants that offer this connection to their patrons in
exchange for a minimum purchase.

Also, there are cities and municipalities where Wi-Fi is
offered for free. This service is often offered by local
governments although sometimes they also work with
broadband providers to create the infrastructure for this.

Then there’s Wi-Fi’s downside. First of all, its range is
very limited. Unless an area has several hotspots, one has
to be as near the source of the signal as possible.
Otherwise, the connection would be terrible.

Even the next generation of IEEE802.11 protocol, the
802.11n, can only offer a range of 250 m outdoors.

There are also security concerns regarding the use of
public Wi-Fi networks. Since these networks are
intentionally or unintentionally unsecure, malicious users
can sniff the data of other people sent and received by
others in the network and use it for criminal purposes such
as identity theft.

But this can be addressed by having an antivirus program
and a firewall installed on an individual’s computer.

Security Issues Involved When Using Connecting to Wi-Fi

Hotspots

The availability of Wi-Fi hotspots in major cities in the
world has made laptops and even Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phones
and PDAs truly mobile computers.

People who are always on the go such as business travellers
benefit from this because they can access their e-mail and
other information from any place where these hotspots are
available.

However, in spite of the convenience that Wi-Fi brings,
there is also a risk involved in using it.

Most Wi-Fi hotspots are unsecure. Because of this, data
that are sent through these wireless networks can be read
by anyone on the network who has the right tools.

Packet sniffers are a good example of such a tool. Unsecure
networks are also called ‘poisoned hotspots’ because of the
penchant of hackers and identity thieves for stealing other
people’s sensitive information.

The good thing is that there are several ways that users
can do to protect themselves. One security measure is by
turning off file sharing in the computer before connecting
to a hotspot.

This prevents other users to see what is in your shared
folder and mess with it. Another measure is by turning on
their computer’s personal firewall. They basically help
restrict traffic to and from their computers.

This is an important tool that people shouldn’t go without.
There are a number of good free firewalls out there which
why there’s no reason for users to not protect themselves.

Finally, if one is in a hotspot but he/she doesn’t want to
connect to the network, it would be good to disable their
wireless adapter. This helps prevent people from
unwittingly sending out data that others may sniff.

There are other ways that people can do to protect
themselves in Wi-Fi hotspots along with the ones mentioned
above. Check them out and have a more secure hotspot
experience.

Municipal Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is becoming a more and more popular way for people to
access the internet in public. This is especially the case
in larger cities where one can connect to the internet
through a Wi-Fi service offered by commercial
establishments and in public areas.

But lately, another entity has also begun providing
wireless internet access to people which is the local
government.

This broadband service brought by an area’s local
government is popularly known as municipal Wi-Fi. The local
government may shoulder the service fully or partially,
depending on the set-up that they choose.

For services fully-operated by the city government or the
municipality, they use taxpayers’ money to build the
infrastructure to build a citywide wireless network. Or
they could also provide this service for a minimal fee to
the consumers.

Meanwhile, governments can also outsource this and avail of
the services of a private company. The company will be
responsible for building the infrastructure as well as its
maintenance.

The good thing about local governments providing wireless
internet access is that it enables everyone with the right
tools (e.g. a Wi-Fi enabled laptop or PDA) to get to the
internet for free. Aside from that, the government itself
can use this service in connecting the computers of their
offices wirelessly.

However, this can also spell bad news to other broadband
providers because giving out internet access for free is
something that they cannot afford. Also, this kind of
set-up discourages the same providers from partnering with
local governments because of its lack of a clear source of
income.

How to Connect to a Wireless Network

Although Wi-Fi is becoming a popular way of connecting to
the internet, not everyone has caught on with this type of
technology yet.

It is therefore not surprising that a task such as
connecting to a wireless network, which is a routine task
for those already familiar with it, can be quite confusing
for those doing it for the first time.

Below is a list of things that one needs to have or do to
connect to a wireless network.

1. Have a Wi-Fi enabled computer, mobile phone or PDA. This
is the primary requirement in being able to connect to a
wireless network.

If you’re planning to buy those items and wish to use them
in wirelessly browsing the internet, check first if they
are capable of doing that.

Most laptops are already Wi-Fi ready, however, mobile phone
manufacturers have yet to make this a standard feature in
their products.

2. When prompted, choose which wireless network you want to
connect to. Newer computers automatically detect wireless
networks that are within range.

They also indicate whether or not a particular network is
secure or not. Just choose your preferred network and
you’ll be online in no time at all.

3. Have security software installed on your computer. This
is important because most public Wi-Fi networks are
unsecure thus exposing your computer to risks such as
viruses and Trojans.

So make sure that you have an antivirus program and
firewall software before joining a public network.

Commercial vs. Free Hotspots

Wherever Wi-Fi hotspots are available, users usually have
to choose between two options: either connect to a paid
connection or free one.

Free hotspots are more popular because not only do
commercial establishments provide this but also users at
home who have wireless connections and who wittingly or
unwittingly share their connection.

The main attraction in free hotspots is that, well, they
are free. What one has to do is simply connect to that
network and browse the day away.

Aside from that, there are groups that believe in sharing
their bandwidth with others. They say that since they do
not maximize their bandwidth anyway, they might as well let
others jump into their connection too.

But free hotspots have their share of problems. They are
usually unsecure which enables anyone with the right
software to sniff the data sent by other people on the
network. It can be a breeding ground for hackers and
identity thieves.

Meanwhile, there’s the alternative of having paid Wi-Fi
connections. This type of hotspot can usually be found in
airports. This mainly caters to business travellers who
need to connect to the internet even at the airport.

The good thing with this option is that it is more secure
because of several measures made by airports in ensuring
the privacy of data over the network.

But the data isn’t completely secure. They are still
logged, by airports for example, for purposes of having
usage records that law enforcement agencies require in
monitoring criminal activity.