Wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) use Wi-Fi technology to offer access to the Internet at speeds of up to 11 Mbps when users are in range of an antenna. Based on the IEEE 802.11b Standard, Wi-Fi technology is used by WISPs to provide wireless Internet access at airports, hotels, convention centers, coffee shops, and other public places.
Users download free software from the WISP’s Web page and use it to find an available signal (Figure W-3). On powering up a notebook computer equipped with a Wi-Fi-compatible IEEE 802.11b card, the software searches all available networks and establishes a wireless connection within seconds.
There are usually several service plans to chose from, according to the number of days the user expects to be online:
- 10-day connect package A package of 10 connect days a month, which includes unlimited access in a WISP’s service location for up to 24 hours. The user can even disconnect and reconnect within each 24-hour period from the same location with no additional charge. Each additional connect day is charged separately.
- Unlimited usage Unlimited usage allows the user to stay connected to the wireless network all day every day for a fixed monthly charge.
- Pay-as-you-go For users who are not sure how much they will use the service, they can sign up for the service and pay a daily charge instead of a monthly fee. Aconnect day includes unlimited access in a WISP’s service location for up to 24-hours. The user can disconnect and reconnect within each 24-hour period from the same location with no additional charge.
In addition to being able to connect to hundreds of hot spot locations, a monthly service plan also may include:
- Wi-Fi “sniffer” software that checks the airwaves for available wireless networks.
- Location directory to find service locations.
- Web-based account management, allowing the user to manage his or her own account. Online and 800 number customer support is available.
- Save and manage security keys and network settings.
- Built-in personal virtual private network (VPN) to ensure secure connections to corporate networks.
Wi-Fi services are also offered by traditional ISPs such as Earthlink, giving customers another way to access their services while at public places where they can use the precious little time they have catching up on e-mail or connecting to the Internet.
Some cellular service providers are offering wireless data access via an integrated GPRS/EDGE/IEEE 802.11b service offering. By combining the benefits of their existing 2.5/3G and Wi-Fi networks, they expect to give customers what they want most from wireless data services: ubiquitous coverage and high speed.
Customers will have seamless service between the two wireless networks via a combo PC card for notebook computers that provides access to both GPRS/EDGE and IEEE 802.11b networks, giving them the ability to move between the two environments without having to change cards.
The existing GPRS and upcoming EDGE networks provide wide area coverage for applications where customers need constant access to such applications as e-mail and calendar, whereas Wi-Fi networks available in convenient public locations allow them to spend time accessing larger data files and multimedia messages or browse the Web.