Unplugged and surfing in the WiFi wonderland

How to find the best deal for laptop access as wireless 'hotspots' spread round the country

WiFi, the wireless internet, is coming soon to a location near you. Whether you're in a friend's home, a café or bar, or on a train, you can in many places already surf the web without having to find somewhere to plug in your laptop cable.

"WiFi hotspots" - the name for outlets equipped to receive the radio waves that power wireless networking - are spreading fast, to small towns and villages as well as the big cities. And last week, plans for a WiFi area covering the whole of London's financial district were unveiled by an internet company called The Cloud.

WiFi can be found with the fries at McDonald's and the lattes at Starbucks, on the Southern Trains network, and in hotels and airports. It is soon to arrive at all Moto service stations.

Today, there are nearly 10,000 hotspots (whose coverage extends to no more than a couple of streets) and several wireless "bands" covering larger areas such as central Bristol and Canary Wharf in London.

"More and more people are trying to connect to the internet while away from home, and one of the most popular ways is a hotspot," says Blair Wadman of Uswitch.com, the price-comparison service.

However, although WiFi is free of wires, it's not usually free of cost. There are plenty of confusing contracts to unpick, as well as different networks to navigate, extra cards to buy and online security worries.

Your basic requirements are a laptop or palm computer and a regular internet service provider, such as Wanadoo, BT or AOL.

The next step is to make sure you are "WiFi enabled". Most new laptops, particularly those with the Intel Centrino processor, let you connect to WiFi as standard, but check with the retailer.

If your machine is older, you can buy a wireless local area network card, says Jay Saw of T-Mobile UK. This card - usually available from around £30 in electronics stores such as PC World - is simply stuck into a port on your laptop.

Before you pop into a café, though, it will probably be better value to set up a separate WiFi account with one of the firms that provide these services.

The two big players are T-Mobile and BT. Sign a deal with the former and you can log on at nearly 1,000 hotspots ranging from airports to Starbucks cafés to Borders bookshops.

With BT's Openzone service, you can get wireless access at 8,400 hotspots in hotels, bars and restaurants across the UK. In both cases, you pay a fee for WiFi access before receiving a password to the account.

Alternatively, you can simply stroll into a WiFi café without an account, pick up the signal and - in most cases - pay upfront to go online. However, you'll usually be charged more for this short-term approach.

With Openzone, charges start from 18p a minute to browse online. This might sound cheap but not when you consider that you can get an hour online for £1 at internet cafés.

An alternative is to sign up for a pay-as-you-go deal with Openzone. Take out a monthly subscription at a cost ranging from £10 to £23, or buy a daily voucher.

With T-Mobile, "walk-in" customers can pay £5 an hour, or £13 a day, using a credit card online.

But regular users can subscribe for unlimited access from £20 a month.

While having different connection options should make it easier to get online while you are on the move, logging on via WiFi in different locations can also cause headaches. "There are the security risks - including being infected by viruses and worms - associated with connecting via 'untrusted' networks," says Paresh Modi, managing director of iPass UK, an online security company.

Make sure your own security software is regularly updated so that it is well equipped to cope with any outside attacks.

Another benefit of WiFi is the proliferation of hot-spots where you don't have to pay anything for access. You can find details of these locations on the web - try www.free-hotspot.com or www.freespot-uk.com. They are often in hotel receptions or cafés.

But consumers need to be aware that where neighbourhoods are set up for WiFi, they could face criminal charges for accessing another person's antennae without permission. However, many homeowners have clubbed together to arrange their own WiFi routers - and don't mind sharing these with others.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine