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 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|
$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
|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 version of this article appeared in the November 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.