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Roadside assistants

When you’re on the road, wireless networking can be your lifeline. These three tools make finding and using public and private Wi-Fi networks easier and more productive.

Fon: Hotspot networks that enable free or inexpensive roaming aren’t new, but Fon is an interesting variation on the concept. As of this writing, the company says that there are 130,000 participating customers (called Foneros) worldwide, each of them running a La Fonera router. That $40 hardware creates two virtual Wi-Fi networks: a protected one for private use, and a public one that other registered Foneros can use. If you share your network for free, you’re a Linus (after the original developer of Linux, Linus Torvalds) and can use the connections of other Linuses for free. If you choose to be a Bill (after Bill Gates), Fon collects about $2 from visitors for a day’s access to your network, and splits the take with you. But check with your service provider before you join: most U.S. ISPs prohibit sharing a connection.

Loki: Skyhook Wireless has managed the neat trick of mapping Wi-Fi networks geographically. (It does so by constantly driving through cities in vehicles with high-power GPS receivers and taking snapshots of the public information broadcast by Wi-Fi networks; the data is available only for major cities in the United States, Canada, and Australia.) Loki is a Firefox plug-in that uses this data to make your browser location-aware. When you surf to a Loki-aware Web site, it tailors its information to your location; you could, for example, quickly find the prices at nearby gas stations without having to input your location manually (free).

Whisher: Sharing your wireless network with friends should be easy. But if you’re smart, you’ve protected that network with a long, hard-to-guess pass phrase—which also happens to be difficult to type in and easy to forget. Whisher aims to save you some frustration by letting you securely share your network password with a group of buddies. (It can also provide guest access for office networks that use WEP or WPA Personal.) Whisher Technologies’ Whisher includes chat and file-transfer tools like those found in iChat, but it’s designed to work well over a local network. Whisher’s software constantly updates an encrypted password cache for your networks, your buddies’ networks, and shared public networks (free).— Glenn Fleishman

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