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Look for a Sign

Downloading on the go? Then get into the zone.

Have you tried downloading e-mail or files over an 802.11 connection at a hotel or coffee shop yet? The virtual network of Wi-Fi hot spots is just getting started, and both coverage and service can be-well, spotty. Look for the Wi-Fi ZONE logo on storefronts; providers exhibiting that logo agree to meet certain standards of service and security set by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the independent association in Mountain View, California, that certifies 802.11 product interoperability. Locations agree to provide 802.11b connection speeds and easy logon, regardless of your PC card's brand. A customer service number must be posted, and the site must support VPNs for security.

Log on to the Wi-Fi ZONE's online database from one hot spot to find another close to your next stop. If you have a subscription with a service provider like Boingo, two mouse clicks will generate a list of that provider's locations.

But most hot spots will sell you access minutes on the spot, and if your provider is out of range, you can search by state, city, ZIP Code or location type. Wi-Fi ZONE isn't a particularly sophisticated site; it lacks map displays for locating sites graphically. But it's quick and comprehensive.

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This article was originally published in the August 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Look for a Sign.

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