How public-access wireless LANs work
Service providers place Access Points at their "WLAN hotspot" which transmit a wireless signal to the wireless card in a user's computer. Users connect through a log-in page in their Internet Web browser. Coverage extends over a 50- to 150-meter radius of the access point. Connection speeds range from 1.6 Mbps with OpenAir technology to 11 Mbps with the IEEE 802.11b wireless Ethernet standard better known as Wi-Fi.
An easier way to pay
Users of public-access wireless LAN services currently have a range of payment options: per use (by the minute, hour, or day), a refillable access card, or by monthly subscription. While these options allow users to budget according to their actual usage, those who venture beyond one provider's service territory must use a service aggregator or must juggle multiple bills and payments.
To address the billing problem with Wi-Fi networks, the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), which includes Cisco, IBM, Intel, 3Com, and Microsoft, is working to establish network standards and cooperation among WISPs and carriers. The goal: providers will share subscriber usage and billing data, so users can "roam" just as cellular phone subscribers do - using public-access wireless LAN from multiple carriers - then pay all charges in one consolidated bill from their "home" provider.
Free public access
Some WISPs offer free public access to wireless LAN; the tradeoff with some, as with free ISPs, is exposure to advertising pitches. These community access points are gaining increasing visibility through WLAN public access search tools like the one presented here.