How Much Does Wi-Fi Cost?

Remember those first cordless telephones? Big as a half-gallon job of milk, and weighed as much– if it were filled with rocks.

And everyone thought they were SO cool.

Going to wi-fi isn’t nearly so cumbersome. It’s easy to go wi-fi, but at what cost?

It depends on what you’re after …

The Poached Hot Spot

“Poach” sounds so ugly. It’s not really poaching, if someone provides a service they know you’ll pilfer. (“Pilfer’s a little less harsh.) Hotels, restaurants and book stores usually furnish a wi-fi signal for their customers. Most aren’t password protected, and are free, so long as your laptop is equipped with a wireless card or you’re using a wireless USB.

The upside:Cost. It’s nothing for the signal, usually, and, if you need a wireless adapter, you can find one online for $20 to $80. Plus, you get to sit around in coffee shops and hotel lobbies, looking all debonair.

The downside: You depend on someone else’s signal. No signal? No Web for you.

The Home Hot Spot

Going the WLAN route gives you a house of happy browsing. All you need is:

    an operating system that supports wireless networking
    a broadband Internet connection, via cable or DSL
    a wireless router – you can use a cable or DSL modem with wireless network support

Through your router, you create a home hot spot to power all devices under your roof.

The upside: Connect anywhere in your home. Check email at the kitchen table. Post pictures while you’re lounging on the couch. Update your fantasy football team in the loo. It’s up to you. Password-protect your network to keep the poacher (or pilferer) next door from snagging your signal, and potentially slowing your connection.

The downside: This game is all about home-field advantage. Once you leave your friendly confines, you’re off the grid, until you can find another hot spot.

Cost: You’ll need a wireless router, which you can pick up around town for $35 to $200. Your carrier will add monthly charges, from $15 for the basic connection to $35 for one that supports more data capacity.

The Mobile Hot Spot

Imagine: Everywhere you go, there you are. And there’s your hot spot, too. You get this through a laptop connect card, and a little software. Most laptops can find a wireless signal; the connect card gives you access when a network isn’t available. The Internet is yours, whether you’re in town, in transit, or in the country.

The upside: You’re on, anywhere. No hotel or airport usage fees. No milking your fast-food meal to retain squatting rights at one of their tables. No skipping network to network every time you move. With no need to find a hot spot, you’re rolling.

The downside: You’ll always have access to work email. Proceed at your own risk. Also, this is the most expensive of the options listed. Just think about the places and times you’d use your expensive connect card when you’re in free-signal territory.

Cost: The card costs $150-$1,000, but some providers give you a break in price with a service contract. Expect monthly fees of $50-$100, with limitless options or plans that allow for less usage.

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