How does mobile internet access work?

Now that used laptops are available for as low as $300 or less (for a slow one that you can write papers on and browse the internet on) i am moderately thinking of getting one. However i dont know much of anything about how internet access works.

Do you need a cell phone to get internet access anywhere?
How does WiFi work? What are WiFi hotspots? I assume colleges and libraries, anywhere else?

It seems that unless i get a cell phone or get WiFi and am at a college or library i couldn’t get online. is this correct?

I’m no expert but I have a wireless network at home and use it with a laptop. I have not used commercial hotspots.

A cell phone with broadband Internet service and the proper software and connection to your laptop will get you connected to the Internet anywhere you have a phone signal. However, that level of service isn’t free. Browse rates at for examples.

WiFi is just a radio connection between your computer and a router, instead of an Ethernet cable. You need a wireless card for the laptop (runs maybe $30-80 range, lots of new ones have it built in). When you are within range of a wireless router (a “hotspot”) your laptop will pick up the signal. If it is a pay-for-use connection, I think you get a web page on your browser that lets you make a payment; I’m not sure, I’ve never used one.

Some coffee shops or other businesses have them either free to customers or at a fee. There are a bunch of web sites that list WiFi hotspots. Try searching on “wifi hotspots”.

Just wanted to add:

“Wireless Internet” (Internet over a cell phone-like connection) is very slow and costly. But you can roam around while using it, just like a cell phone.

WiFi is much faster and cheaper. But you can’t roam around a lot without having to re-establish a connection.

There are other wireless connectivity systems like Bluetooth which are Future Dead Technologies. There is also the start of “wireless USB” but that’s really for use within a home or office.

Nextel’s currently offering (right now, only in Raleigh-Durham/Chapel Hill) wireless broadband. As of now, $50 a month gets you 750K download/200K upload, where $75 gets you 1.5M down, 375k up. Burst speeds of 3M down are not uncommon, and depend on network conditions :wink:

Sadly, it’s only available in that one market, where it’s being productized, and will not be on the main screens for the immediate future, if at all. Would be a hell of a product, though.

1xRTT can get up to 144 kbps, and averages around 60-80 kbps. It’s not great, but it’s faster than a modem. It’s currently available nationwide - Verizon calls it National Access, Sprint calls it Vision.

1xEV-DO apparently averages 300-800 kbps, and can get up to 2+ Mbps. That’s comparable to DSL. It’s currently available in San Diego and Washington, D.C.; Verizon says they’ll have it in most large markets by the end of this year, and nationwide by the end of next year.

Sprint is skipping EV-DO and going straight to the next level, 1xEV-DV, which I believe can get up to 5 Mbps. I don’t know when they plan to roll it out.

As for the price… yes, it’s expensive if you use it during peak time. I don’t know about Sprint’s prices, but Verizon has plans that bill NA out of your regular voice minutes, so you can use your free nights & weekends to get online.