Monday, March 30, 2009

Who's Stealing my Signal?

Wi-Fi technology has made it possible for a growing number of people to gain access to the internet for free as long as a laptop with an 802.11b or Wi-Fi network card is installed and positioned within 300 feet of the broadcast location.

Many hotspots scattered all over the major cities in the US have made it possible for people to access the internet from places like airports, conference rooms, lounges and cafes.

Hotspots have also found their place in suburban areas where many residents are unable to afford the main NSP's (Network Service Providers) charges. Free WLAN’s can be established as long as a computer is set up to transmit the signal to nearby wireless units.

The broadcaster pays for the high speed or DSL signal from a NSP’s and then retransmit it with the help of specific software. This kind of behavior has raised some concern among the main NSP's who do not agree with that approach and refer to such free services as “parasitic networks”. However, the broadcasters claim they do it purely to help people within their communities who can not afford the high service charges.

NYC Wireless, one of the groups who broadcast the internet signal, rebuffs the allegation made by some NSP’s and bristles at the term “parasitic networking”. They point out that the high access rate charges applied by the service providers are the true parasites. NSP’s such as Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner and others feel they have been taken advantage of and sustain that those networking groups are violating service agreements and they have become more forthcoming in cracking down on those networking groups by seeking legal action against them in an effort to try to stop their work.

Besides New York City, there are 20 free internet access points in Seattle and many others scattered all over the country. Coffee retailer Starbucks is one of the groups that has increased its rollout of Wi-Fi hot spots as this appears to be a commodity which helps to attract more customers to the business.

Most free network groups do not see benefits in the work they are providing at the present moment; however there is a potential they will do better in the future as they seek for nonprofit organization status with the government. As a nonprofit organization they can legally establish fundraising programs in order to cover the operation expenses.

According to John Patrick, former IBM vice-president of internet technology, “The advent of Wi-Fi is about to change all of our lives in a major and positive way. I will go further. Wi-Fi is one of those grassroots phenomena that will soon become as ubiquitous as the PC itself. The latest laptops have Wi-Fi antennas built into the lids, while the wireless access points, which send and receive the Wi-Fi signals, now cost less than $100. The issues, which are many including security and privacy, business models the scalability of the infrastructure. Looking back at how the internet evolved from the early years there are many similarities with what is going on at this early Wi-Fi stage. The emergence of the Wi-Fi is a grassroots trend that is irreversible”.

While WLAN’s offers the commodity for people to use the internet for free at specific locations, it also requires that the user takes extra security measures as a result of going wireless. There is always a concern that hackers may be using the signal to gain access to one’s computer and steal confidential information.

It seems that free WLAN’s movement is picking up fast as more people are becoming adept to the idea despite all the controversy with the big network companies. While operators are now working under the radar of most consumers and wireless providers, the trend poses questions for those seeking to charge for a service that these volunteer organizations see as essential as water.

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