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Introducing wireless 2

02 November 2006

How fast is wireless?
The most popular wireless networking standard is 802.11g, which runs at up to 54Mbps (megabits per second) which is almost five times faster than the earlier 802.11b standard. This compares favourably with the speed of Ethernet cable connections (10 Mbps or 100 Mbps). If buying a wireless card, be sure to get the faster version. A possible issue to watch out for is interference from a cordless phone: you need to avoid using such a phone if it also works in the 2.4Ghz frequency range.

What is a WiFi hotspot?
This term generally refers to a public area where a wireless signal is provided by a commercial organisation. Railway stations and airports are common examples, where the BT payphone is the base station, but increasingly other retail premises, including pubs and cafés, have them, too.

If I have a laptop computer, will the same card I use at home work in an external hotspot?
Yes, although many public hotspots run only at the slower 802.11b speed of 11Mbps.

Are hotspots expensive to use?
Most hotspots require a payment, which can be expensive for short, casual use. Some ISPs offer a pay-as-you-go option (for example, PlusNet charges 8.2 pence per minute), but café sites often charge a minimum of £5, though sometimes for 24 hours unlimited use. There are several WiFi commercial operators in the UK, including BT OpenZone, www. btopenzone.com, Broadreach Networks, www.broadreachnet.com , The Cloud, www.thecloud.net, and T-Mobile, www.t-mobile.co.uk/Dispatcher?menuid=phones_wb. Some operators have agreements for interoperability with others, but by no means all. Tariffs vary considerably, so you need to choose carefully depending on your expected usage.

Where are these hotspots?
For the most comprehensive list of UK locations, see www.zdnet.co.uk/ specials/wifimap. For a global list, try www.hotspot-locations.com or www.wifinder.com.

There are also some free hotspots in the UK, such as the ones in Suburb coffee shops (Covent Garden and Manchester) or the mile-long one in Islington High Street, paid for by the local council. For a list of free hotspots worldwide, see www.wififreespot.com or www.wi-find.com.

Is WiFi faster than using a mobile phone for internet access?
Yes, much faster. Older telephones using GPRS typically achieve only modem-like speeds of about 56k bits/second, even though the theoretical maximum is two to three times higher. Although new Third Generation (3G) telephone networks have a theoretical maximum of 1.9Mbps, at the moment 384 kpbs is the best achievable in practice, and they are very costly to use.

Future improvements to mobile phones, such as High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) promise to achieve speeds comparable to current WiFi. Of course, mobile phones work in many places not currently served by WiFi. But WiFi will get more widely available in future: the WiMax standard or 802.16d is expected to permit public hotspots on a much larger scale.


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