Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Finding WiFi on the Road

We moto-bloggers are always looking for easy and free ways to get on the Internet when on the road. The need to post pictures and ride reports can be an addiction at times, at least for me.  :)

Now that I work remotely 100% of the time in my job, the ability to work from anywhere is a reality so long as there's access to the Internet.

I am going to start "commuting" to remote locations (as in, away from home) in the next few weeks, not going too far but seeing how easy/hard it is to locate free WiFi Internet access and doing work away from one's home infrastructure.  Ride someplace in the morning and setup, work till lunch, ride for fun during lunch, work in the afternoon then ride home.

To aid in this, a bit of research yielded several options which I now present to you.

1.  An agreement was made by several major  home internet service providers, such as xfinity (aka Comcast), bright house, cox, time warner etc.  As long as you're one of these provider's customers, you can log into a participating company's WiFi hot spots and get on the Internet!

I am guessing each provider has some arrangement with these hot spots, perhaps giving them a discounted rate to allow part of their bandwidth to be shared out to the occasional roaming users.  Some of the hotspots are businesses, some are people's homes.

There is an xfinitywifi hotspot not two blocks from my house so I just walked over and was able to log in using my laptop and my comcast userid and password.  Neat.  You have to wonder though, how the homeowner feels about someone parked outside his home, accessing the Internet?

2.  There's also a WiFi Service called Jiwire.com which lists known WiFi access points worldwide.  The status of the access points can be verified by users in order to keep their database somewhat up to date.  Jiwire isn't the only one of course, there's Boingo and others I imagine, each with their own database, each with their own pros-cons.  Some like Boingo and Netzero are fee-based services.

3.  You can try searching for establishments using googlemaps.  Establishments that usually provide WiFi Internet access such as Starbucks, McDonald's and the like.  The catch here of course is they usually expect you to make a purchase or two and not just spend the day using up one of their booths!

4.  You can use your smartphone's data plan (this option can get expensive if you exceed your monthly allocation of course).  You cable up your laptop to your phone via a USB cable and use it as a hotspot.  This of course depends on your data plan, check with your provider.  I've tried it, about 3 hours of remote access to work computers via my phone cost me about 500 MB of data.  So unless you've got an unlimited data plan (quite rare these days or very costly), this is a last resort option and still requires you be within 4G/3G coverage zones of your cellphone provider.  Oh and yes, you can tether to your phone via bluetooth if you're so inclined.  Your throughput might be lower though.  Oh, and you become a discoverable hotspot as well.  Be careful with this, there's hackers out there, use a USB cable instead.

The CNET article  from which I drew most of the above information, lists other options and mentions organizations such as openwireless.org which seeks to provide open WiFi access to the world I think.  Lofty goal, not sure how widespread they are.  It's probably worth your time to give the link a full read.

Other methods are listed and described in the article but I am going to mainly try points 1-3 above in the coming weeks.


Richard M said...

Good luck on your quest for cheap/free Wi-FI. I've resorting to 3GB on my iPhone through AT&T and 2GB on the iPad through Verizon. Currently, only Verizon allows tethering.

If you're in a Sprint area, I've head that it's the best deal though their coverage is rather spotty. The state has some sort of contract with a cell provider that allows near unlimited data using a Mi-Fi device. That seems like a great deal.

Good luck on your quest...

Charlie6 said...

Thanks RichardM, I think the hard part won't be finding free/cheap wifi, it'll be finding power for the laptop....I supposed I could carry the portable generator....or explore solar cells.....

Chris Luhman said...

I have unlimited data with tmobile for cheap and it is fast. It works almost everywhere I go. I get 3GB of wifi tethering free too. Since I rooted my phone, I can do unlimited usb tethering as well.

I usually avoid wifi since it is slow and usually insecure. fire up a vpn to be safe.

Good luck!

Richard M said...

I've used an external laptop battery pack from www.thebatterygeeks.com for several years. The 135 watt-hour pack is about the size of a modem and powers my laptop for around 6 hours while on Wi-Fi.

Trobairitz said...

A good experiment for you. If you go to a Starbucks for wi-fi make sure you ask them about refills on coffee/tea. They are either free while you are there or only $0.50. Can't remember which.

We have Comcast/xfinity at home and I wasn't aware they had the hot spot deal. They just upgraded our modem to one that is wi-fi capable and we are trying it vs our Mac Airport for wi-fi for now.

Bob and Sharon said...

This last trip on the PCH we were able to stop at numerous campgrounds that were supposed to offer free wifi. And I was really disappointed with what was advertised in this camping group as wifi. Small bandwidth, wifi was down quite a bit, wifi used for babysitting, netflix etc. Mike Spaulding the fellow on the 50cc motorscooter uses his I-Phone to maintain his blog daily he used a small laptop when he can use wifi.

I would seriously try a small inverter charging your laptop while driving and possibly a small solar cell to extend your usage.

Get a Mac I get close to 6hrs usage at 100 % start

Just my input


Charlie6 said...

Chris, definitely vpn for work stuff, encrypted rdp for my home pc where all the "heavy duty" work is done, I just view the screen scrapes. T-Mobile coverage sucks in the mountains, but I've heard of other t-mobile guys who are enjoying that unlimited data....may have to look into that again.

Charlie6 said...

Thanks for the info RichardM, will look into it...though I am also thinking of using an inverter to "recharge" the laptop battery while riding.

Trobairitz, I didn't know about this wifi hotspot deal either via comcast/xfinity, not very well advertised methinks. Presently sitting in a cafe in Evergreen, CO. One slight miscalculation on my part though....sure, there's access to wifi points here but sitting outside in 39F weather, not so attractive. :)

Bob and Sharon, My work laptop gets about 5 hrs I think, will know for sure at end of today. Will look for the inverter I have somewhere in the house to recharge while riding.