Table: Wi-Fi 101
There are two ways into Wi-Fi World. The first is to build your own system, which costs just a few hundred dollars and is no more complicated than, say, programming your VCR or assembling a child's bicycle. It's not a trivial exercise, but with a little diligence, it can be done. The other option is to subscribe to a service.
HOW TO SET UP A HOMEMADE WI-FI NETWORK
GET A HIGH-SPEED CONNECTION You'll need fast Internet access, such as DSL or a cable modem. Since you will be sharing the line, and potentially the cost, with other users, spring for a high-end offering that costs about $70 a month and is at least 20 times as fast as a regular 56K modem.
BUY A BASE STATION Plug the DSL or cable modem into a Wi-Fi base station, which is available at computer retailers for about $175. The base station is a radio that creates a high-speed, two-way wireless connection with computers within a few hundred feet.
BUY ANTENNAS To connect to the Wi-Fi network, each computer must be equipped with an antenna that slips into a PC slot on its side. They are available from computer stores for as little as $50.
INSTALL THE SOFTWARE The software that comes with your antenna lets you connect to the network. If you travel with your laptop, it allows you to link for free to thousands of other Wi-Fi nets that are popping up in offices, homes, and cafés. You'll also be able to tap into commercial networks for about $5 a day.
HOW TO BUY WI-FI SERVICE FROM A COMPANY
BUY A WI-FI ANTENNA These are identical to antennas used in homemade networks. Pop one into your PC slot, and you can access thousands of Wi-Fi networks in hotels, airports, and cafés worldwide.
SELECT A COMPANY Options include VoiceStream Wireless, which has a network of thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots, many in Starbucks coffee shops. Other services include Boingo, hereUare, and WiFi Metro, which cost between $20 and $75 monthly.
Data: Gartner Group