You hear a lot about the wireless internet, but it's not something you can just connect to anywhere. It's more often something you purchase and set up.
I want to use this question to clear up a misconception that appears to be surprisingly common.
Wireless internet is not just “out there” to connect to. You need to take steps, whether it’s setting something up, paying for something, or at a minimum, asking for permission.
It’s definitely not the case that you can just grab a wireless card and suddenly be connected anywhere you want. The wireless capabilities of your computer are only half of what’s needed.
There are several approaches to getting a wireless internet connection.
WiFi is a medium range wireless networking protocol. By medium range, I mean that its range is typically around 30 to 300 feet, depending on conditions. That means you need to be fairly close to it.
The most common WiFi setup is to get a WiFi router or access point and connect it to your own wired internet connection. For example, you might upgrade and get a DSL connection, and then place a WiFi router on that connection so that you can get the internet wirelessly anywhere in your home.
The second most common WiFi setup is the public WiFi hotspot. This is exactly the same as what I’ve described you do in the home: the hotspot owner has a wired internet connection to which they’ve connected a WiFi router or access point and explicitly left it in the unsecure open mode for anyone to use.
WiMax is a longer range wireless technology. Its range is typically measured in single digit miles. Much like cellular, which I’ll discuss in a moment, WiMax uses a network of transmitters (equivalent to WiFi access points, but much more powerful) to give a large geographic area of coverage.
You get WiMax by signing up for WiMax service with a provider. They’ll then provide you with the hardware and account necessary to connect up. The WiFi ability of your laptop has nothing to do with this; WiMax is a different technology.
The cellular phone network is a large digital network, so it’s no surprise that it can be used for internet connectivity as well. The coverage area is perhaps the largest of all – pretty much anywhere your cellular phone will work. It’s not as fast as WiFi or WiMax, but that’s improving over time.
Like WiMax, you’ll typically need to sign up for a data plan with your cellular carrier. Also like WiMax, you’ll need additional hardware – your WiFi capability has no relationship to cellular. The additional hardware might be as simple as a cable or Bluetooth connection to your existing phone. Or it might be an additional cellular network adapter for your computer or home.
No, it’s not an option, but I have to mention it because many people seem to think it is because it’s wireless.
Bluetooth is an extremely short-range wireless connectivity technology. By extremely short range, I mean 10-30 feet. Just far enough to connect to your wireless keyboard or mouse. It is not a means to get wireless internet connectivity. When it’s used in conjunction with something like your cellular phone, it’s the cellular network that’s providing your internet. Bluetooth is just providing that last hop between your cell phone and your computer.
“But I can connect without doing any of that.”
This is typically the response I get, “proving” that I’m wrong and there must be WiFi everywhere.
Take the comment in the original question: “I can get on the internet from my iPod at the edge of my property.”
That’s not terribly surprising. The iPod uses WiFi and chances are an open WiFi access point is close enough to that side of your property to be in range.
The point is that it’s someone else’s WiFi.
Do you have permission to use it?
Someone else is paying for it. They’re presumably paying for a wired connection and have purchased the hardware to set up the WiFi access point. Just because you can connect doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate for you to do so. In many cases, it might even be illegal.
Even if it’s an open WiFi hotspot – perhaps a coffee house – it’s their connection and they set the terms. Typically, their terms are such that the WiFi is provided for their customers, not just “anyone in range.”
If it’s a neighbor … well, they should have set up encryption to prevent just this scenario, but even if they didn’t, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for you just to connect.
If they give you permission, then your solution might be to try a WiFi repeater or range extender in your home or getting a larger antenna on your wireless device. I’ll caution that this isn’t always simple. Wireless networking seems to be partly magic, but it’s the direction that I’d steer you in once you had permission to do so.
But remember, if you’re using someone else’s internet connection, they can monitor your traffic.
In the long run, my actual recommendation is to upgrade to DSL or some other technology for you home and then get a WiFi router of your own.
Be sure to password protect that WiFi connection so that someone doesn’t steal your internet connection because they just happen to be close enough.