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Surf and Turf: Take Your Family Out for Broadband

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Internet access isn't just for homes and businesses anymore. With a wide variety of places offering wireless broadband (libraries, coffee shops, hotels, and more), you can send your loved ones out of the house for the day, so you can work in peace.
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I'm a bandwidth bandit. To most people, this isn't as bad as stealing candy from babies or driving slowly with my blinker on in the left lane. But to my husband, I know, pilfering his Internet access is worse. It's much worse.

It's not my fault, you realize. I can't help it if the company I was working for decided they didn't need my services any longer. So now I lurk around the house all day, checking my email, conversing on IM, uploading and downloading PDF résumés and guidelines—all the while slowing down my husband's access and making his browser fill-in just that much slower—and he's working, mind you. Then, when our son gets home and starts downloading music and instant messaging his friends, it's time to send the family out for Internet access.

So I took a walk on the wild side of WiFi Internet access. Many eateries, bars, and local businesses offer Internet access—some free, some paid—as a way of enticing visitors to come and spend time (and presumably money) in their establishments. I was surprised that my small town of 17,000 inhabitants offered not one, but several options for on-the-go Internet access. Not only are such so-called hotspots proliferating quickly; given today's standards, they're surprisingly easy to use.

Minimize Your Tech Support

If you're sending the family out for the day—to leave you and your access in peace—there are some things you need to do first to prep them. That way, you can enjoy the afternoon and not be constantly interrupted by the dreaded whine of "It's not working!"

Most hotspots don't provide tech support, so make it easy on yourself. Start with a relatively recent notebook with 802.11b or 802.11g wireless interface. Some new notebooks have this capability built in, or you can use a wireless network interface card (NIC) in the PC slot. If you also run wireless at home, you can configure whatever clients and network protocols you need for your home network, but be sure to install TCP/IP and set it to obtain an IP address automatically.

For your home networks, you may prefer to specify some settings in the NIC configuration or in Wireless Network Connections (for Windows). This is especially true for problem PCs. But don't. Most WiFi hotspots—especially those that require pay for access—configure and connect automatically, so here are some suggestions:

  • Do obtain an IP address automatically (TCP/IP).

  • Don't set up WEP security (this requires ignoring a Windows recommendation).

  • Don't specify a Network Name (SSID) in the NIC configuration.

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