For Laura: Cheap Wi-Fi

>> Sunday, May 24, 2009

Laura said: Where I work (at a gym) I used to be able to get a good wireless signal very easily. However, it was an unlocked network, and they seem to have either cut its signal strength or closed it entirely, because it doesn't even show up anymore. I am able to sometimes get a signal if I go sit in the handicapped shower stall in the women's locker room. However, that gets cold and uncomfortable quite quickly, so I don't spend much time doing that. :) I have an Asus EeePC netbook. What options do I have in the United States to be able to get a signal without having to do the locker room dance?

Wouldn't it be lovely to have readily accessible wi-fi everywhere? It's not technologically impossible or even that difficult. It would make thing simple, but most places in the country (US) we don't have it. I'm not sure about the situation in other countries (although I think it's similar in Canada).

As a result, we are dependent on others when we're not in our homes (where we have the option of setting up our own wifi). Some locations have private wifi (locked) that requires a password. Some have private wifi that they will charge you to use (several airports have this), but costs vary and you're pretty much at their mercy.

I'm not an expert on this either. I have my own wifi network at home and I never work anywhere where network isn't part of the job. In fact, this only becomes an issue for me when I travel, but it can readily be an issue then. I expect, when I tell you what little I know, others will pop in and provide more insight into this discussion.

As for the free wifi, you're pretty much at one's mercy, too. If your gym doesn't have wifi as part of the deal, chances are you're tying in to someone else's private or business wifi. When you tie into private but open wifi, you're technically stealing a bit of their bandwidth. Chances are, it won't hurt anyone unless you're a hacker, but it does leave them vulnerable if you were doing anything unsavory or illegal. And, if they are already near the extent of their bandwidth, it can slow their network down appreciably.

The situation you describe sounds like you're tapping into someone else's network. There are homemade doohickies to try to build, but they tend to be bulky and I wouldn't personally bank on it. There are places that welcome patrons with free wifi, like many McDonalds, Subways, coffee shops, but that's only a help if you can get away.

If you can't find an available network, you have the option of getting a card for your computer that uses a cellular option. Unfortunately, these are not cheap and usually will add to your monthly cellular bill. You might be able to add it to your existing cellular plan relatively inexpensively, but it's a definite expense and it would depend on how much having it would mean to you. Still, such access is considerably less expensive than it used to be and anywhere where your cellphone has coverage, your computer likely would as well.

Now, I expect a dozen more expert individuals to give you even better advice, but this represents the extent of what I know on this subject.


  • Laura

    Thanks. :) Initially, I thought the gym had some sort of an agreement with the one signal we were able to connect to. It wasn't until it all of a sudden stopped working one day, that I found out we didn't have one.

    The gym manager is trying to work a deal with the company that has another strong signal, but ... he's not the most organized or efficient person in the world. (Mostly though due to being overwhelmed with responsibility.)

    I have AT & T for my cell/home internet, and as far as I know they don't have one of those wireless cards. I've heard Verizon does though .. but would cost 3 x what I pay for my home internet.

    Thanks for your response! :)

  • Stephanie B

    Oh, Laura, you're in luck. AT&T has 'em too. See here (if that didn't work, go to your wireless page and search for laptop devices.

    Still, if your gym manager can manage something, that would definitely be the cheapest way to go.

  • Lola

    Burger King, Mc Donalds, most fast food restaurants have free wifi. Starbucks has it too, but they I think they require you to do something to get access.

  • flit

    I used to choose restaurants based on who had the best signal...but now that I have Roger's wireless stick, I can go almost anywhere... it costs about $36/month, but for me, it's worth it... at least right now when I'm doing so much gallivanting :)

  • Laura

    Wow! Thanks Stephanie! That just might be worth it - I haven't figured out yet what the monthly charge is for it ... but that just might be my answer.

  • Laura

    Gulp. $60/month. If I used it at home too and cut off my DSL, that would make it only $40/month extra ... will have to do some serious thinking on this.

    Thanks again!

  • The Mother

    Two thoughts: I know on the mac you can use bluetooth to steal the internet access from your phone. It's slow and not optimal, but in a pinch...

    I heard that Verizon has a new gizmo that provides personal wifi for up to five devices at once, within a thirty square foot radius. It was supposed to retail for about $35/month. I don't know if it's actually on the market yet, but I would definitely check it out.

  • JD at I Do Things

    Good advice, Stephanie! (I'm cracking up at the thought of working from the handicapped stall at the gym!)

    Here's a link to a site that lists a bunch of free wi-fi locations:

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