Voice Over Wi-Fi

A wi-fi handset that could usurp your cellphone—and where you can use it.

Cities such as Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon, are blanketing their burgs with Wi-Fi. Austin, Baltimore, London, and Rome, among others, have large, free hot spots. Because Wi-Fi access points are cheaper and smaller than cell towers, a phone that operates over Wi-Fi could have fewer dead spots than cellular networks and be easier to use overseas (see Cell-Phone Confidential). Vonage's Wi-Fi-powered handset ($50 after rebate; service plans start at $14.99 a month for 500 anytime minutes) isn't perfect: Reception was spotty in places. Overall, though, sound quality was as good as a regular cell phone's, and you'll be amazed at how many open networks there are. As more areas add Wi-Fi, it could beat fuming at Verizon.

Hot Stuff

Hot Stuff There are now 72,316 Wi-Fi hot spots in 103 countries, according to JiWire.com. Even so, finding a free public one can be a crapshoot. Which premium service is best? By Josh Taylor

  Where You'll Find Them Ease of Setup Service Speed
T-Mobile HotSpots
$9.99/day, $39.99/month ($29.99/month with annual contract)
6,324 hot spots in the United States, 11,765 abroad, including Starbucks, FedEx Kinko's, and Hyatt Hotels. 50+ in U.S. airports (e.g., United and American lounges) Optional software does a decent job of finding and logging you on to T-Mobile HotSpots, but isn't especially helpful beyond that. When was the last time you had a hard time finding a Starbucks? Good thing, because it's painful to search for a hot spot on T-Mobile's Web site. High-traffic locations (like Starbucks) typically mean more people competing for bandwidth, athough if you're just checking email or surfing the Web, you'll be fine. Overall Rating
B+
Boingo Wireless
$9.95/day, $21.95/month
7,257 hot spots in the United States, 10,538 abroad, and 50+ in U.S. airports. Notable chains: Hilton and Marriott hotels. Add-on software searches for both Boingo and out-of-network hot spots, automatically logging you on to the former. The lack of a major national retail partnership means that finding a hot spot requires some advance research. Fortunately, Boingo's Web site makes it easy. The network's reliance on smaller indie coffee shops and cafés often means fewer people fighting for the airwaves. Overall Rating
A-

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