with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Wireless Internet – Wired US Cities

The dream of living and taking your camera on the road is exciting. We’ve been doing it for ten years now, and we had to admit, it can be very exciting. It can also be boring, but the biggest challenge for living on the road is staying in touch.

When we began, cell phones were new and expensive. The Internet was just getting started and we begged, borrowed, and juryrigged telephones to dial up to the Internet, often reaching a proud 4800 Baud, but usually confined to 1200 or less.

As cell phones became cheaper, and service expanded, we still found ourselves often in areas which have no cell phone coverage. Now wireless Internet or WIFI enters the picture. It’s the technological talk of the planet, yet you still have to be where it is. While it is very cheap to set up, people want to make money from it.

Still, it is easier than ever to get connected to the Internet, if you have the right equipment, you are in the right place, and you have the patience. We’ll be presenting a series of articles on WIFI technology and its impact on travelers, over the next few months. To get you going, here are a couple of conflicting views on this issue.

In an article by Intel, Wireless Internet: Intel Ranks the 100 Most Unwired U.S. Cities, they offer up the 100 most “unwired” cities in the US. What this means is that these cities have the “best wireless connections and services”.

I’m proud to see my home town of Seattle in the top of the charts and stunned to see Mobile, Alabama, our current temporary residence, at 72. Before coming here in December, I did numerous searches on the Internet and found only two places in the entire city that offered public access WIFI services. In six months, even though I converted our campground over to free WIFI services for visitors, I don’t see it jumping from nothing to 72, but I don’t make up the list.

A friend of mine saw the article and decided to challenge it. In mdawaffe’s article, “A Stupid Survey”, he says:

‘Unwired’, here, is taken to be a good thing. The survey attempts to judge the wirelessness of those cities it ranks: wireless hotspots and the like. The problem is that it doesn’t do what it says it does.

Firstly, it doesn’t rank cities as the title of the survey suggests, but metropolitan areas instead. This isn’t that big of a deal, and, indeed, the explanatory notes make this fact explicit, but it’s still sloppy. More importantly though, this does not rank the top most unwired cities….

Answer: They only surveyed the largest 100 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and there is no reason to expect that the set of the largest 100 metropolitan areas is the same set as that of the top 100 most unwired.

He’s right. The reality is that two years ago, I found free WIFI in my in-laws’ neighborhood on the distant outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma, but in their office near the downtown, I couldn’t get a signal. I found WIFI in Everett, Washington, 35 miles north of downtown Seattle, but I couldn’t find a free connection in downtown Seattle, though I found plenty of paid services.

Reality is that I found no WIFI services in many airports while finding some paid services in others. I found no WIFI service in downtown Albany, New York, or Lake Placid staying in a 5 star hotel on the lake. But I did in the little sleepy dying town of Ticonderoga in upstate New York.

WIFI, even with an expensive booster outdoor antenna, has a range of one, maybe two blocks line of sight. Usually less as building and other interference gets in the way. The city of Tulsa is spread across 10 to 20 miles, so how can it get Intel’s rating of 61? Does it have THAT many WIFI systems setup across the town, or just a couple of universities and college campuses which feature a ton of geeks eager to spread new technology, yet it only covers a small area of the town?

So stay tuned. We’ll talk more about life on the road and staying in touch on the road to help you understand more about how to get online while traveling.

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