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Wifi, Wifi… it’s everywhere

Wifi, Wifi… it’s everywhere

It used to be the case that as long as you had Wifi at home and in the office, that was adequate for most people’s needs. Only really dedicated business types expected to be able to work whenever they sat in one place for longer than a few minutes. Very few people took the trouble to cart around a laptop everywhere they went. This has all changed, now so many of us have an extremely compact computer tucked in our pocket in the form of a Smartphone. Increasingly, many have a tablet computer such as an iPad somewhere around their person and the whole point about such devices is that, if they’re not connected to the internet, they’re not much use.

Of course, Smartphones can access the internet via the 3G network but this is decidedly slow; only the other week I was trying to cheat at the pub quiz and I had to hand the answer sheet in before I’d even managed to Google the first question. Luckily, help is at hand in the form of a proliferating network of Wifi hotspots. But how do they work and how can you make use of them?


A Wifi hotspot is anywhere that’s in range of a wireless router, normally about 90 meters if you are outdoors. If you’ve seen the recent BT adverts you’ll know that BT Openzone customers can enjoy access to over 2 million wireless hotspots around theUK. Given that BT only has a network of 4000 wireless transmitters, mainly located in city centres, this seems like a tall order, but it is genuinely the case.

This is how it works. Millions of people have BT wireless routers that are protected by a firewall so that only they can use them. By signing up with BT Openzone you open up access to your router to anyone within range who has also signed up with BT Openzone. Don’t worry about security, the firewall is still in place and you are not giving access to your computer to any Tom, Dick or Harry who happens to be within range of your router. Anyone piggybacking off your router is only using a tiny fraction of the bandwidth so you shouldn’t notice any reduction in download speed either. The payback is that if you are within range of any other BT Openzone router, all 2 million of them, you have broadband internet access.

BT has also gone into partnership with O2 and TMobile so you can use their routers too, or if you have a Smartphone using either of those networks you can get broadband access via Openzone routers. You could also consider joining Fon, an international network that links over 3 million routers across the globe. You don’t have to be a customer of any particular ISP to use the Fon network, you just attach a small gadget that costs about £40 to your router and away you go.

Wireless hotspots aren’t perfect; you really need to be stationary, so you can’t use them on a train for instance, though you can hop from hotspot to hotspot in a car. Also, some routers have a very limited range; 802.11a routers have a range of only 30 metres outdoors or 15 metres indoors. The signal can also be impeded by brick walls, microwave ovens and a host of other things. You won’t find wireless hotspots in rural areas either, although most villages have a handful of them now.

All in all though, the revolution in wireless router sharing can only be a good thing and moves us one step closer to a world where broadband is available to everyone pretty much everywhere. It also demonstrates that even giant telecom providers can co-operate in the interests of their customers.

Computer advice article was provided by Walmley Pages, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local usiness to the Sutton Coldfield public.

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