Explain this WiFi stuff, please?


I’m going to be spending a lot of time on the road, and I’d like to be able to write emails to The Missus from the comfort of the local coffeehouse. While nearly every one of them seems to have a WiFi sticker on the door, I wonder:

Who’s paying for it? Is the ticket picked up by the establishment, expecting to recoup the cost in more stuff sold to people who hang out there?

If my laptop has a WiFi card, do I have to pay an additional fee to someone to use it?

If it’s like my cell phone and I have to pay someone to make it work, who has a good deal?

Thanks, all.

It depends.

Some places have an open WIFI connection and you don’t have to pay for it. They might kick you out if you don’t get coffee or such. Realistically a small coffee house is probably does not spend more than $100 a month to run the WIFI.

Some places have hot spots set up by someone like tmobile and you pay a monthly fee to tmobile to use any of the tmobile hot spots.

Others run there own pay to use hot spots and they give you a code to get on the wifi or you pay by cridit card through the computer.

They can either be free, or require some kind of subscription or payment. If it’s the latter, you’ll find out when you try to connect. Coffeehouse connections should be free, and if you have a wireless capability in your laptop, that’s all you need. You’re exactly right that they’re offering it so that people will sit there longer slurping down lattes while surfing the net. It’s not really a very expensive thing for them to provide. These days, your motel should also provide free wireless, which will be very handy for catching up on emails. Airports, unfortunately, usually have only some subscription based or pay-for-the-day service.

Panera Bread also offers free Wi-Fi.

Two options that you can’t help but run into when traveling - Starbucks and McDonalds:

A quick peek at Starbucks’ website says they’re rolling out more ways to get free WiFi access at over 7,000 locations.

The main one is to register a Starbucks card and use it at least once a month to get two consecutive hours of free access a day. If you don’t have their card, you can also buy access for $3.99 for two hours, but there’s not much reason not to get a card - it’s just a pre-paid card that you can load up with however much you want to spend on coffee.

If you’re traveling internationally, more than half of all McDonalds locations have WiFi - they generally charge for this, and the fees vary by location.

It varies with the coffeehouse. Starbucks doesn’t provide free wi-fi; instead they usually have a T-Mobile hotspot and you have to sign up, and pay, by the hour or day. You might consider getting your own T-Mobile account. Their throughput is slow, but probably fine if you’re just going to be emailing mostly. If you want something better you can go with something like Verizon National Access, which is more expensive (about $60 a month) but as good as router-based wireless connectivity. It works wherever a Verizon cell phone works. Other companies have similar offers. If you’re going to travel a lot I would consider it. You can use it in a hotel room and not have to pay exorbitant charges for phone calls or wi-fi to the hotel. I use it because I often need to study on campus at UCLA, but they don’t allow me to use their wi-fi network because I’m not a full time student.

Independent coffeehouses tend to be more generous, and usually have free wi-fi. You may have to ask the barista what the password is if it’s a secured network, or it may be unsecured with no password needed. These places seem to want your business, at least they show it by letting you get online without charging you for it. In fact, there’s one such place that I frequent where, if you’re sitting at the bar, you can hand your power cord to the barista and they’ll plug it in for you.

As others have said, your hotel should have free internet access in the room (either with a provided ethernet cable or through wifi).

In my experience the more expensive the hotel, the more likely they are to charge you for internet access. Hampton Inn and the cheaper discount chains seem to offer this for free, but “business” class hotels like Hilton will charge you a daily rate. I never stay at these hotels when I am paying myself, but the feeling of being nickel and dimed never fails to irritate me.

Another supporting point, I suppose, for the sign on the counter at my neighborhood coffeehouse - “Friends don’t let friends go to Starbucks”.

Some of them around here have available outlets along the wall. If you sit next to the wall you can plug in your laptop.

Oh, and some bars have free wifi these days. If it’s a “neighborhood pub” type joint with tables and food service, there’s a chance they’ll have a wireless hot spot, so you can have a pint and browse the web. Same philosophy as the java joints - offering it keeps people in there sucking down overpriced beer.

Check the local public library. A lot of them have free WiFi.

Some hotels will advertise that they have free high speed internet access in the rooms, and they do if you use the cable at the desk to connect. Be careful when you connect wirelessly, because they may and sneak small print on you that there’s a daily cost to use the Wi-Fi.

In the US, that’s true. It might or might not be elsewhere.

Mr. Neville and I found that hotels in Israel charge for Wi-Fi when we went there this winter. We’re used to free internet connectivity in hotels here in the US, so it sucked. I told our travel agent that their package tour should include some free wireless time in the hotel if at all possible, to appeal to the under-40 crowd like me and Mr. Neville who feel lost without internet connectivity.

Some overseas hotels that don’t have free Wi-Fi will have public computer terminals available to guests for free or for a small fee. We’ve used those in Europe and Australia.

Even more of them have public computer terminals.

The Pittsburgh airport has free Wi-Fi.

Starbucks is in the process of changing from T-Mobile to AT&T for WiFi service. As gotpasswords said, you can get a couple of hours a day of access if you use a Starbucks card at least once a month, or you can get free access if you’re an AT&T DSL customer (which seems like a clever way to get customers to choose AT&T DSL service over cable modem service).

Some motels have free WiFi, but usually only the cheaper ones. More expensive hotels generally charge separately for WiFi (perhaps because their customers are typically on expense accounts).