Paid Citywide Wireless Internet Access
Paid citywide wireless Internet access doesn't have the political resistance that free citywide Internet access does, but it's still not all that common. Most ISPs find that it is more cost effective to wire individual buildings for Internet access than it is to build a comprehensive wireless grid. It is more common for ISPs to provide a combination of wired and wireless ISP services than wireless access alone. Thus you may find that wireless Internet service is available all throughout a city's historic district, but only wired service is available elsewhere. It varies from place to place and ISP to ISP.
Wireless Internet Access Speed
Modern wireless Internet access is actually quite fast, and is comparable to DSL, ISDN, or cable. There are three different standards currently in widespread use: 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g. The majority of sites use 802.11b; it's the least expensive but the slowest with a maximum theoretical speed of 11 Mbps. 802.11a was developed at the same time as 802.11b, but is significantly more expensive, has less range, and is less popular; it's faster with a maximum theoretical top speed of 54 Mbps, though. 802.11g is a newer standard that combines the best of both 802.11a and 802.11b. It's got a maximum theoretical speed of 54 Mbps, and is backwards compatible with 802.11b.
Wireless Internet Access Security
It's so easy to set up a wireless Internet network with an off-the-shelf base station like the Linksys or AirPort that people often forget about ISP security considerations. When setting up a wireless base station, it is important for you to change the default password. You should also turn on encryption. The reach of these base stations is often farther than you expect, and it's pretty common for people to be able to see your network from the street or a neighboring apartment. Keychain wireless network detectors are on the market, and they enable crackers to discover wireless networks unobserved. If such a cracker gets into your wireless network, it could conceivably make it possible for her to see all of your private information. Using encryption and safe passwords will protect you.
Wireless Internet Access
There are three related meanings of wireless Internet access in common use. The most frequent is when a home or business uses wireless access to share a single wired connection (like cable, DSL, or ISDN). Almost as common is the public-access wireless access provided in places like libraries, airports, and hotels so people can use their laptops and PDAs to access the Internet. Sometimes these are free, but more often than not they require a payment for a certain limited amount of usage. The least common is for large grids created by ISPs that offer wireless connectivity throughout a community. These can either be free (if sponsored by the local government) or require a monthly payment.
Free Citywide Wireless Internet Access
Free municipal wireless Internet access is currently extremely rare. There have been several cities and towns in the United States that have created such grids that blanket their entire surface and it makes the Internet essentially free and fast for all their citizens (and visitors). The only thing that one needs to utilize such a community-wide wireless grid is a wireless card. Unfortunately, traditional ISPs and telephone companies don't like big free wireless grids. They see them as being competition, and they have been working hard to make them illegal. There are already several states in the U.S. that don't allow free municipal wireless Internet access.
Travelers' Wireless Internet Access
These days there are many wireless Internet access options available for travelers. It is not uncommon for airports to offer wireless Internet connections (usually on a pay-per-usage basis, but sometimes free). It is now also quite common for hotels and motels to offer wireless Internet connectivity (usually on a pay-per-diem basis). Many libraries and parks also offer wireless Internet access, and usually for free. Internet access for road warriors is easier now than it has ever been. There are even portable wireless base stations available that'll enable you to use high speed wired connections with your wireless devices.
Sharing Internet Connections Wirelessly
It's pretty trivial to use a wireless base station to share a single ISP's Internet connection with multiple computers, and the firewall facilities built into some wireless base stations can improve your ISP security, too. Base stations like the Linksys or AirPort will function like routers; you connect their uplink ports either directly to your Internet connection or through a hub or switch. Individual computers can either be assigned IP numbers on-the-fly by the base station, or be given pre-set ones. The former case is easier to set up, and the latter case results in faster Internet access. Computers set up in a wireless network like this can also directly share information with each other.
Wireless Internet Access Hardware
If you want to have mobile Internet access by taking advantage of the public wireless Internet connections available in different places, you'll need some special hardware. Of course to be truly mobile you'll need a laptop, notebook, or PDA, but the key thing is the wireless card. Most public access points currently use a standard called 802.11b, although a few use 802.11g. The 802.11g standard is faster than 802.11b, but backwards compatible. That means that if you have an 802.11g card, you'll be able to utilize both 802.11b and 802.11g wireless Internet connections.
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