I can babble endlessly on almost any subject but if you get me started on Wi-Fi, especially Wi-Fi at the truck stop, you might as well settle in for a long night. When I first started packing a laptop, during my adventurous forays into the world of over-the-road trucking, the only way I could connect to the Internet was by first connecting a phone cord between my laptop and a wall outlet. This was all well and good but after a few months of trying to surf the 'net while sitting in a crowded truck stop restaurant or, worse, a noisy drivers lounge I began looking for ways that I could enjoy using my laptop, connected to the Internet, from the comfort of my cab. When, in late 2002, the Broadway Flying J in Tacoma, Washington began offering Wi-Fi I was beside myself with excitement.
And I'm still excited. Since 2003 Flying J Communications has done a remarkable job of expanding the availability of Wi-Fi through the breadth of it's truck stop chain as well as "strategically located exits along interstate highway systems in the U.S. and Canada including sites outside of the Flying J travel plaza network."
As they've done in so many other areas 'Flying J' no longer relies on an outside source to provide their Wi-Fi solution; they've become a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP). Assuming they continue to be as successful at this as they've been in their other endeavors then the wireless services they provide will become the standard by which all other truck stops and travel plazas are judged.
Deciding, like Flying J, to go it alone; TA Travel Centers launched what they call TA SpeedZone™ Wi-Fi Hotspots. TA SpeedZone™ Wi-Fi Hotspots can now be found at every TA Travel Center and, on top of that, several TA Travel Centers also offer the services of IdleAire. Chances are good you've seen the IdleAire Advanced Truckstop Electrification (ATE) System somewhere in your travels. Included in the many services that IdleAire offers is Wi-Fi, available to anyone within range of the facilities. What you might not know, however, is that, while IdleAire offers Wi-Fi at every ATE equipped truck stop, they also offer Wi-Fi services at several other truck stops.
Love's, Petro and Pilot Travel Centers went through some tough times in an effort to provide Wi-Fi services to their customers. They, among others, contracted with a WISP that had further partnered with another provider. Eventually, as American Corporations often do, the WISP and their partners ended up in court. Corporate court proceedings that result in insults, injunctions and interruptions rarely work out well for service subscribers and this instance was no exception. All three, Love's, Pilot and Petro, seemed a little gun-shy after this experience but they finally partnered with a decent, stable, WISP and, once again, Wi-Fi's available at their Travel Centers.
By now you've probably gotten the idea that Wi-Fi's widely available but you may not be entirely clear about what it is, how it works, or the ways it can benefit you. (Hmmm.... This seems like a good place to plug my book: Over the Road Wireless For Dummies. You get answers to all these questions and a whole lot more!) Very simply though, Wi-Fi, which, by the way, is just a short and snappy name for Wireless Fidelity, is a method of making connection to the Internet via radio. Just imagine that you're replacing the phone cord between your computer and the wall outlet with a radio signal. Then imagine that, instead of using a slow phone line for the Internet connection that you're using a high-speed cable, DSL, satellite or T-1 connection.
Of course, this means that your laptop (or PDA) needs to be equipped with a Wi-Fi radio transceiver and you need to be in range of the radio transceiver being used by the truckstop to establish their Wi-Fi hotspot. In fact, a common misconception is that, once you subscribe to a Wi-Fi service, you can make a wireless connection to the Internet from anywhere. Not so. Wi-Fi utilizes low-power high-frequency transceivers so the range is limited. There's usually enough power to reach the edges of the truck stop lot but if you get much beyond that you're probably going to find yourself without a signal. (There are ways to extend your range that I cover, in detail, within Over the Road Wireless For Dummies.)
The primary reason I enjoy Wi-Fi can be summed up in one word: FREEDOM! I just enjoy the feeling of freedom, not to mention the convenience, that I have when I pull into a truck stop that doubles as a Wi-Fi hotspot. If I want to connect to the Internet from the comfort of my cab; I can. If I want to connect to the Internet while sitting in the restaurant or coffee shop; I can (and I'm not limited to looking for a booth equipped with a phone). If it's a nice day I can even surf while sitting in the sun. If all this sounds good to you then visit the next page and find out how easy it is to get connected to the Internet; wire-free.