Connecting on the move: Public Internet access

Over the course of the last two decades, the Internet has become an increasingly mobile phenomenon. Laptops are ever more popular and can be connected to the Net in various ways when you’re out and about – from Wi-Fi hotspots to Ethernet networks. And the emergence of PDAs, games consoles and mobile phones equipped with full Web browsers has meant that Net addicts really can stay permanently plugged into the online world. Then, of course, there’s the old-fashioned “Internet café” and other public access facilities. This article provides a look at all these various ways to connect on the move.

Finding public access:
You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a cybercafé. There’s sure to be at least one close to the main street or tourist district in any town. If not, try asking at a hotel, post office, library or computer store. Or, if you’re going on holiday, and you’re organized enough to check before you set off, look up the following directories:

Cybercafé Guide
Cybercafé Search Engine
Internet Café Guide

Connecting a laptop on the move

As an Internet station in the home, a laptop or notebook computer works exactly like a standard desktop machine. But laptops are designed to be taken on the road, and they can be connected to the Net in various ways when you’re away from home:

1: Via Wi-Fi

If you have a laptop or PDA with wireless capability you can connect wirelessly anywhere you find an accessible Wi-Fi network. This might be a friend’s house, a café or hotel, or even a city-wide network. Though none is comprehensive, there are various online directories of hotspots, such as:
Hotspot Locations
Wi-Fi Free Spot
ZONE Finder

Many commercial hotspots are pay-to-use. You either pay the person running the system (over the counter in a café, for instance) or sign-up directly via your laptop. If you use such services a lot, you may save time and money by signing up with a service such as Boingo, T-Mobile or Wayport, which allow you to connect at thousands of hotspots for a monthly fee.


Many hotspots, however, provide free access for all. Some do this intentionally, others simply by having an unencrypted network that a laptop user can “sniff ” out and use from the pavement outside. Motoring around to find free Wi-Fi points – whether from hotspots, homes or unwitting offices – is called wardriving. Warchalking, meanwhile, though not a trend that has ever quite taken off, involves writing chalk runes on the street to alert others to locations where they can get online for free. Collectively, such activities are known as WarXing. For more, see:

2: Via an Ethernet cable

Most modern laptops have a built-in Ethernet port. This will usually be all you need to get online via an office network, and it can also allow you to share an Internet connection at a friend’s house where the same time. If your laptop lacks an Ethernet socket, you can add one with an inexpensive adapter – either a PCMCIA network card or a USB device.

3: Through a phone socket

Some dial-up ISP accounts only allow you to dial-in via your own phoneline, but in other cases there’s no such restriction. So if you use a dial-up connection at home, you may find you can simply hook up your laptop to any phone number in the country and get online as normal. Even if you use broadband, your ISP may be happy to provide a dial-up phone number, which you can set up in the normal way. The same technique should also work further afield.
Assuming your modem is compatible with the phone system of whichever country you’re in, you should be able to simply add your home country’s international dialling code to your dial-up phone number and connect as normal. The problem with connecting this way – if it works at all – is that if you add an international dialling code to your dial-up details, you’re making a long-distance call each time you connect, so it might get pricey – especially if you’re using a hotel phone socket. A better option is to find out if your ISP has local dial-up numbers in whichever countries you’re visiting, allowing you to avoid any long-distance charges.

You may hear this described as global roaming, with each local number described as a Point of Presence (POP). Some ISPs offer global roaming for free but hit you with a fee each time you dial in from abroad; others charge you a flat-rate monthly surcharge to use the service and then you just pay local call charges. However you do it, to avoid nasty surprises check the rates and access details before you set off. Also consider testing the foreign dial-up numbers: better to pay for a quick international call than wait until you’re wrestling with a hotel phone system and a directory enquiries agent who can’t understand a word you’re saying. If you plan to spend long hours on the Web it might be better to sign up with a local ISP in whichever country you’re aheading to.

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