Comparison Shopping

Don't be thrown by the complexities of all the different Wi-Fi pricing models. It's not really as complicated as it may seem.

As a practical matter, the first time you use a Wi-Fi hotspot, you'll probably take advantage of a promotional offer, or buy one-time (or pay as you go) access. It's a good idea to stay uncommitted for a while, and to try a variety of different networks.

So start with one-off usage, and get a feel for a number of the Wi-Fi hotspot networks. You should make note of locations, access speeds, and how good the customer service is.

After you've used a number of Wi-Fi hotspots, you should begin to get the sense of your usage patterns, and you may be ready to sign up for an extended payment plan by the month (or even an annual contract). If you keep a log showing your actual usage and compare it to pricing explained in this section, you may be able to come up with the best pricing comparison.

If a particular location is vital to you, you may be stuck with one particular provider, and comparisons won't matter so much.

The Absolute Minimum

Here are the key points to remember from this chapter:

  • There are a limited number of national Wi-Fi networks that provide hotspots.

  • A few of these networks (Boingo, Wayport) are attempting to build Wi-Fi networks from scratch.

  • Other networks use the infrastructure of wireless or wireless telecommunications providers (T-Mobile Hotspot is the leader of these).

  • Boingo is the network with the best roaming policy.

  • Pricing is erratic and varies from network to network.

  • You can generally purchase one-time access, access by the day, or monthly access.

  • Some Wi-Fi network providers allow marked-up pricing; beware of retailers who overcharge for Wi-Fi access.