Considering that standardized wireless Internet initially appeared around the year 2000, it’s pretty amazing to see how fast the technology has evolved in less than 15 years. While Wi-Fi has become widely used in homes and in business environments throughout the world, the latest trends are for large-scale public Wi-Fi networks that serve outdoor areas and buildings where large groups of people gather.
In fact, with the ability of smartphones to become their own Wi-Fi hotspots, the idea of “Wi-Fi everywhere” has basically become a reality. And there’s no cost for using Wi-Fi in many areas, which provides plenty of incentive to find an available public Wi-Fi hotspot.
History of Wi-Fi networks
After the FCC decided to open up bands of the wireless spectrum to unlicensed users for communications in 1985, the idea of creating Wi-Fi followed a few years later. The IEEE sponsored the creation of a worldwide Wi-Fi standard, which underwent quite a few iterations and changes before the organization adopted it by early 2000.
The early standards related to Wi-Fi were aimed at using the network indoors. So when municipalities and universities began exploring the idea of using Wi-Fi over larger, outdoor areas, plenty of problems existed.
Developing municipal Wi-Fi
Cities developed large-scale Wi-Fi networks, including several in California and Michigan, in large part to use as networks for public-safety organizations. But the networks eventually became obsolete, as cities had difficulty keeping up with the speed and use demands of newer personal electronics. Cities didn’t make the needed investments in hardware to keep the networks running at optimal speed.
For example, in 2006 Google created a city-wide Wi-Fi network in Mountain View, Calif., the company’s headquarters location. After several years of success, the network’s reliability failed. But Google has announced plans to give the network a complete overhaul, again bringing city-wide, free Wi-Fi capabilities to Mountain View.
Beyond the examples shown in the infographic, here are some additional recent announcements regarding deployment of public Wi-Fi networks:
- Lincoln, Neb. – The University of Nebraska recently created a Wi-Fi network at Memorial Stadium, looking to serve 90,000 football fans.
- New York City – City officials are placing Wi-Fi routers in public telephone booths to provide wireless access at various locations.
- San Francisco – The 49ers new NFL stadium has an extremely fast Wi-Fi network that saw 2+ terabytes of data pass across it during a preseason game.
- Santa Clara – This California city is combining smart grid technology with its public Wi-Fi network.
- Tampa, Fla. – City officials have announced plans to provide free Wi-Fi in various locations, including downtown public parks.
If you can’t find a municipal network with which to connect, you still have the option of creating your own Wi-Fi network using your smartphone. By turning your smartphone into a Wi-Fi hotspot, you can use a laptop or tablet to gain access to the Internet. If you choose to use Wi-Fi tethering, keep a few things in mind:
- Battery drain – Your smartphone will probably get hot and the battery will drain quickly when you use it as a hotspot. If you can’t afford to drain the battery on a particular day, minimize your use of a hotspot.
- Data plan drain – One reason why you’d want to go with a public Wi-Fi connection versus a smartphone hotspot is because you won’t be using your cellular contract’s data limitations when going with public Wi-Fi. To avoid draining your data contract too quickly, choose when to use the smartphone as a hotspot carefully.
- Create a password – If you don’t use a password with your Wi-Fi tethering, anyone can log into your hotspot, using your data minutes. If you want to set a record high for your cellular network bill, forgetting to set up a password while using your smartphone hotspot in a location where you’re around other people will do it.
Check out the infographic for more information on wireless Internet around the world.
Felicity Dryer is a web journalist based in Los Angeles, California. She is writing about technology, which has been a passion of hers since she was young. In her free time, she enjoys hosting game nights with her friends and spending her warm days on the beach.