In most urban areas these days, you can find a Wi-Fi hot spot within a PDA's throw of wherever you are. Places like Barnes & Noble, Borders and Starbucks are reliable stops for internet access. Boingo and T-Mobile are two major hot-spot aggregators to check in with. We rounded up some happening hot spots in eight major cities, but to locate hot spots all across the U.S., visit www.jiwire.com or www.wifinder.com .
Boston: Head to Newbury Street, where a host of restaurants and hotels will be happy to hook you up. The Wrap at 247 offers free Wi-Fi, so you can enjoy a smoothie while you surf. Over at 241, the Armani Caf� serves up Wi-Fi and Italian food. It's a good location for a small, informal business meeting.
Chicago: If you find yourself near Daley Center Plaza, stop by to access the City of Chicago Wireless Network. Free hot spots can also be found at the north and south ends of Millennium Park along Michigan Avenue, as well as in almost every branch the city's 79 public libraries.
Dallas: Driving through Dallas? Pull off I-20 to the Flying J Travel Plaza at Exit 472, where a one-day wireless pass costs about $5. If you're destined for the sky, you can log on at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, where T-Mobile provides a pay hot spot across Terminal A.
Denver: Mile-high Mac lovers can stop in at the Apple Store at 3000 E. 1st Ave. to hop online and take care of business while browsing for PowerBook accessories. When it comes to hotels, the Hyatt Regency Tech Center is just 10 miles from downtown and offers wireless internet in all 451 guest rooms.
Los Angeles: When you're craving a cool and refreshing treat, stop in at Lickety Split for frozen custard. They offer free Wi-Fi at their three locations in Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, and on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. Downtown at Pershing Square, you can hop online as part of a free public Wi-Fi project launched earlier this year.
New York City: Grand Central Station is not just for trains--it's also for Wi-Fi. Boingo offers coverage in the lower level food court. The Downtown Alliance provides free access in eight public spaces in Lower Manhattan, including Bowling Green Park, the South Street Seaport and Wall Street Park.
Phoenix: Most FedEx Kinko's Office and Print Centers are Wi-Fi hot spots, so look out for a nearby store when you're in the Phoenix area. If you have business at or near the Arizona Legislature, you're in luck: Free wireless reaches through the hearing rooms, hallways and courtyard areas.
Portland, Oregon: Web development firm OakTree Digital provides free Wi-Fi at Tom McCall Park in the busy waterfront area. For other hot spots across the city, visit the volunteer-run Personal Telco Project .
A word of caution before reading this section: Gartner Inc. recently listed mobile phone viruses and fears about wireless hot-spot security as two of the five most over-hyped security threats of the past year.
The fact is, although the R&D laboratories for various anti-virus companies report that close to 100 cell phone viruses have been identified over the past 18 months (most of them for products using the Symbian OS), the risk of your mobile phone becoming infected with a nasty virus is relatively minor. When they do spread, these viruses more often than not take advantage of Bluetooth connectivity to jump from phone to phone.
Gartner analysts predict that the chances for a virus outbreak are minimal until the end of 2007. Why 2007? In that year, the research firm predicts smartphone shipments of about 109 million, or 15 percent of all wireless phones, which would give virus writers a critical mass of products against which to launch an attack.
That's not to say cell phones, notebooks and handhelds are invulnerable. Securing Bluetooth connections and wireless provisioning methods, as well as configuring USB ports properly, are important strategies for locking down mobile devices. Plus, you need to prepare for a more serious mobile security threat: theft of your data or intellectual property. Recent statistics from the FBI estimate there were 1.5 million laptop computers stolen in 2004, up 50 percent over the year before. And that doesn't count all the notebooks or phones left in taxicabs and rental cars or forgotten in airplane seat-back pockets. Very few of these notebooks and phones are ever recovered, which has led to the release of myriad mobile encryption products.
"Anything that is mobile has a higher risk of being lost or stolen. Often, the data on the laptop is much more valuable than the laptop itself," says Brad Grob, vice president of marketing for SecureTrieve, a Los Angeles company that provides security technology for notebooks. Its product, dubbed SecureTrievePro, offers both encryption and a backup service that snatches back files you've identified for retrieval if a thief later uses your notebook to log on to the internet.
"The way it works is that when you report the computer stolen, and when the thief logs on to the internet, the files are retrieved automatically and invisibly," says Grob. That link also puts a trace on the location, so there is a greater chance of finding the stolen hardware. If the thief doesn't connect, the data is lost and irretrievable. A 30-day free trial can be downloaded from www.securetrieve.com . After that, a six-month subscription is $39.95; a year is $69.95.
Perlego Systems of Gig Harbor, Washington, sells a product for smartphones developed with a similar philosophy: It can be used to reset or wipe a phone clean wirelessly through special over-the-air management technology. Elsewhere, Credant Technologies of Dallas sells a product called Credant Mobile Guardian, starting at about $70, that lets companies create login policies for notebooks.
Heather Clancy, editor of technology newsweekly CRN, has been covering the industry for 14 years.