It was not too long ago that every home in the United States used a landline phone as their primary means of communication. Unless the telephone company was doing service on your lines, the phone was reliable and sufficiently convenient for everyday use. The growth of wireless technology has spoiled many of us. We have gotten to the point where we expect to have crystal clear phone signals and fast Internet connections at every moment of every day. Have our demands grown faster than the technology itself? Perhaps our expectations are unreasonable. Wireless Internet cannot be both as fast and as reliable as wired connections through DSL or cable services; however, understanding how wireless Internet service areas work and are labeled can help alleviate confusion and frustration.
Hotspots are access points to a wireless network that can be privately, publicly, or corporately owned. Any of your Wi-Fi enabled devices, like a laptop, cell phone, MP3 player, or PDA can connect to the Internet via one of these hotspots. A single wireless hub can provide Internet access coverage to a single home or business or it can be designed to broadcast the signal over several square miles. For these larger coverage areas, you may notice regions in which the wireless signal strength is slightly weaker than in others. There are wireless extenders that can be used in buildings to amplify the wireless signal to give you a better Internet connection in these typically weak areas of coverage. Note that some hotspots are password protected for security reasons. Hotels, airports, and large businesses often password protect the wireless signal they broadcast to prevent outsiders from utilizing their Internet access free of charge.
A few cities have begun to provide city-wide wireless networks, particularly around Northern California. This coverage is provided through a smart grid network to blanket across the municipality. Colleges and universities also tend to have campus-wide wireless Internet networks, which is convenient for students, faculty, and staff members. While the access is not generally as fast as a wired connection, it allows for sending and receiving email from anywhere on campus.
Wireless Internet provider service areas are usually diagrammed into a map format that is used to outline the coverage area for customers. The darker the region on the map, the stronger the wireless Internet signal in that area. Beware of these maps because the coverage area simply shows you where the wireless signal is broadcast but it does not tell you anything about Internet access speeds or the reliability of the signal. The best way to gauge true coverage when shopping around for a wireless Internet provider is to ask other customers in your area about their satisfaction. Find out what their typical connection speeds are as well as how often they get dropped from the Internet.
Roaming is a wireless communication term that applies to extending wireless coverage beyond your home location using additional signal towers that may or may not belong to your own wireless Internet provider. If your provider has a roaming protocol in place, it will ensure that you experience an uninterrupted Internet connection as you travel within and occasionally, outside of the country. Most wireless Internet providers charge a premium for minutes or data transfer conducted while roaming. These fees pay for the agreement the company has with the owner of the towers that you use beyond your standard coverage area. If you travel frequently, roaming capability will give you seamless service but you may see your wireless bill skyrocket. Pay careful attention to your wireless Internet provider service area map before committing to a contract with a single provider. This will help minimize your costs while delivering the Internet access you need.