The best and easiest way to find Wi-Fi hotspots is to use the directories available on the Web. There are only two problems with using these directories:
You have to be already connected to the Internet to access them.
No one directory is comprehensive, and the information in each directory is different. This means that you may need to search multiple directories to find the hotspot you are looking for.
Here are some of the most widely used Wi-Fi hotspot directories and where to find them on the Web:
China Pulse: www.chinapulse.com/wifi (hotspot locator for China)
i-Spot Access: www.i-spotaccess.com/directory.asp (currently limited to Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska)
Ordnance Survey: www.g-intelligence.co.uk/wireless/wifimap.php (great for United Kingdom hotspots)
Square 7: www.square7.com/hotspots (great for European hotspots)
Wi-Fi-Freespot Directory: www.wififreespot.com
WiFinder: www.wifinder.com (one of the best all-around international hotspot directories)
Wireless Access List: wirelessaccesslist.com/wireless/u.asp (categorized by state and ZIP code, also allows sorting by network, for example, T-Mobile, Wayport, and so on)
Zagat Survey: www.subscriberdirect.com/the_new_yorker/zagat/ (lists and reviews restaurants and hotels with Wi-Fi access in five major U.S. cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle)
If you have signed up with a national network, such as T-Mobile Hotspot, it stands to reason that you will want to use hotspots that your network provides. The best -approach for finding network-specific hotspots is to use the directory provided by the network itself. For more about working with national Wi-Fi networks, see ?Chapter 12, "Working with National Wi-Fi Networks."
As I mentioned earlier, if you are looking for a Wi-Fi hotspot provided by a specific network provider, that network provider is the best source of location information. See Chapter 12 for more information about national networks. Appendix B, "Finding Wi-Fi Hotspots," has a more extensive listing of national networks, along with various categories of commercial chains that provide Wi-Fi in many of their stores.
If you are looking for free Wi-Fi access, Wi-Fi Freespot is probably your best bet.
If you need to find a hotspot in a specific geographic area, a directory that targets a specific area may be the way to go. For example, China Pulse has the best listings for finding hotspots in China (yes, Virginia, there is Wi-Fi coverage in China), and the Ordnance Survey is one of the best way to find Wi-Fi hotspots in Great Britain.
If you are looking for a restaurant or hotel with Wi-Fi in one of the cities it covers, by all means use the Zagat directory.
Otherwise, I find the best all-around directories for use with commercial Wi-Fi hotspots are HotSpotList and WiFi411.
The JIWIRE directory, www.jiwire.com, has a partial answer to the "you can't get there from here" problem.
JIWIRE powers directories that work using the AvantGo mobile Internet service using a Palm OS PDA or a Pocket PC handheld. The JIWIRE directory can also be accessed by a WAP-enabled wireless phone.
To use the handheld directory, you need an AvantGo account (www.avantgo.com), and a wireless handheld capable of working with the AvantGo network. You download the AvantGo Hotspot Locator (powered by JIWIRE) using your desktop computer, following the instructions on the JIWIRE and AvantGo sites. The next time you synch your handheld with your desktop, the AvantGo Hotspot Locator will be downloaded onto the handheld. You will be able to use it much as you use a desktop Wi-Fi directory.
To use the WAP-enabled phone directory, you need a wireless phone with a WAP browser and a mobile Web account with your cell phone provider. You can then use the WAP-enabled phone as a Wi-Fi finder by using it to surf to www.jiwire.com. Of course, depending on your service plan, you can expect to be charged for the time you are searching.
JIWIRE's introduction of Wi-Fi locator services for AvantGo-enabled PDAs and WAP-enabled cell phones is quite innovative and probably quite useful to the intrepid road warrior. (See Chapter 10, "Tools for the Perfect Road Warrior," for more tips about the Wi-Fi equipment you need as a road warrior.) But in some ways it is a bit of a clunky solution because it requires that you carry another (non-Wi-Fi) wireless device.