Public WiFi

It’s funny that I worked at a (the?) major distributor of commercial WiFi for just about 3 years and never used the product once. That’s not to say that I never used wireless, I just never had to pay for it before. And I still wouldn’t, if I wasn’t a such a fan of convenience.

Read why after the jump.

There’s hot spots just about everywhere, although there are some obstacles to their use: getting [strong enough] signal, encryption, and money. Different philosophies for using WiFi will generally present one of these problems in specific. Lets go through them.

Getting Signal. This pretty much boils down to finding the hot spot. More accurately, finding the free hot spot. That’s because people can’t yet see energy in the 2.4GHz band of the electromagnetic spectrum (bummer). If we could, we would know where to seat ourselves for the most comfortable free ride on the Info Super-Hwy and wouldn’t wind up in a pee-ridden community park getting the first free signal we stumble across. That’s where the “hot spot locator/detector” comes in. These handy tools show you were the signal is and if it’s encrypted or not. There’s a bunch of different types ranging from t-shirts (thanks Duane!) to USB devices to iPhones. I’m personally holding out for the latter, but if you think “information should be free, man!” then I highly suggest investing in one of the above. Or sit in the pee-park.

Note that there are sites that will show you where the free hot spots are in a particular area, such as These are well and good so long as you know where you’ll be in the future. Personally I prefer the “aimlessly roaming” style of city-seeing, so it’s really hard for me to meet the requirement.

Encryption. There’s not a lot you can do about this, although if you’re determined & technically inclined you have an ace up your sleeve. Most access points (hot spots) are still configured to use the earliest form of wireless encryption, called WEP. WEP, like Three’s Company, is old and dumb. Smart people have since figured out how to break this encryption and have created tools to help us less-smart people do the same. I haven’t looked into it too much, and don’t necessarily condone it, so if you’re interested, start reading.

Money. This is the hurdle I ultimately ended up jumping over. I still can’t see that rascally 2.4GHz band, but I can see Starbucks. And Starbucks has in most places (except in Roswell,) WiFi service handled by T-Mobile. Not to mention it has comfy seats, caffeine, and locations all over the US (including Roswell.) This ‘convenience factor’ made the $40/mo. hurdle make sense to me, but you can bet I paid it grudgingly. If you don’t want to do the same, check out the above recommendations. There are other vendors (Wayport, AT&T WiFi), but I personally haven’t found myself in places that they have access points on a regular basis.

Extra Tip for People Saps that Pay. So you plunked down the $40/mo, $3/hr, $9/day, etc, information ransom. Now the information’s supposed to be free, right? That’s their part of the deal! Turns out you can and will get your service blocked if you transfer too much and/or too quickly. Bullocks, I say! That’s where the “MAC Spoofer” comes into play. You see, the only way you can be identified on a wireless network is by the MAC Address on your wireless card. These MACs are like the VIN on your car, and are programmed in at the factory. Fortunately, just like those shady guys who change VINs, you can be a shady guy and change your MAC! In most cases that means whatever nefarious activity got you banned gets washed away, and you’re back in business. I’ve personally done this a few times and it’s saved me from a horrible offline fate. My tool of choice is MACChanger for Linux, but a quick search should find you some tools for your platform. Again, this isn’t recommended, but if you don’t want to call tech-support and explain that you were downloading “business documents” instead of the latest Heroes, it’s worth a shot.

Now, back to my tall mocha w/ skim milk, no whip.

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2 Comments in 1 thread.»

Comment by Duane
2007-11-19 11:06:53

You forgot to mention Of course like you say you have to find these spots and you need internet access to find these spots. I found several libraries in FL to have free wi-fi and most public libraries have computers you could use to find the free wi-fi spots. My favorite last year was a Long John Silvers in Pigeon Forge, TN. We couldn’t figure out why they had the service but we were grateful that they did.

Thanks for the interesting post.

P.S. The link for the Passport America that I work with is and not the one with the dash between passport and america.

Comment by Alexi
2007-11-19 15:40:27

Fixed & fixed. I’d imagine that both links will come in handy for fellow travelers! :-)

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