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Question by Jim E: Internet solution help abroad please?
Im going to be going France (Paris) for a few days and my hotel doesn't have wifi.
Is there a wifi dongle i can buy which isn't on contract ?
Im from the UK.
Answer by Ak3la
The wi-fi isn't "in" the dongle; the dongle is just an antenna (a transceiver) that allows the computer to connect to an existing network. If the network isn't available, then a dongle won't help.
Imagine that you are instead going to, I don't know, someplace that is out of range of any radio signal. The jungles of Brazil, maybe. You have been told by your hosts that the huts "don't have radio", so you plan to bring your own antenna. Do you see the disconnect now? If there is no signal to catch, then a signal catcher is useless.
However, I may be interpreting your situation too narrowly. Your hotel has informed you that there is no wi-fi *in the hotel*, but that doesn't mean that there isn't any *in Paris*. If there is wi-fi available -- true, IEEE 802.11 "wi-fi" -- then any wi-fi dongle will work. For example, I frequently go to a sports bar near where I work, and they offer free wi-fi. I can bring my wi-fi-equipped PDA with me and check the weather, read some headlines, whatever while I wait for my lunch. Because the restaurant offers this as a free service for its customers, I can do this whenever I am near enough to pick up their signal.
I am also aware that a well-known fast-food chain (I am in the United States) offers wi-fi signals in its restaurants, but you must pay to use it. If I try to browse to any web site while connected to their signal, all I get is a page asking for my credit card information so that I can purchase some access time. It is still the same "wi-fi" signal, but it leads only to a portal that requires a paid account in order to get to the internet on the other side.
You may find the same situation in Paris. The local bistro might have wi-fi available, but it may or not be free to use. Communications technology -- from cell phones to the internet -- is used differently by Europeans than by Americans, and their expectations of how (and how much) to pay for the services also differ from ours. I am not well familiar with the situation in the UK, but I suspect that your services and pricing models are more closely aligned with those on the Continent than here in America. There is not necessarily a "contract" for the service, but the local provider may require payment through some other means.
I recognize too that I might be misunderstanding your use of the expression "on contract" with regard to the wi-fi dongle. Wi-fi is generally implemented as a relatively short-range signal: I've never encountered a "hot spot" that could be reached from more than 30 meters or so, and usually 20 meters is the maximum. You have to be close to the router in order to use the network. Some cell phone providers do offer devices that can allow laptops to connect to the internet via the same radio network that their phones use, vastly increasing your ability to use the internet in remote areas, or while in motion (from a train or airplane, for example). Using such a device generally *does* require the same type of "contract" as one would obtain with a cell phone, but this service is not "wi-fi", it is a different type of wireless signal, usually called "wireless broadband" or "roaming broadband" here in the States.
So your first step is to identify which type of network connection you want, or at least, which will be available. I can't imagine wireless broadband being available without a contract, since it is the cell phone company that actually makes and sells (or leases) the devices, and their networks are private and proprietary. True wi-fi, on the other hand, is an open standard, and it may or may not be available for free (if at all) in any given location. Call the hotel or consult a travel agency to see what nearby establishments *do* provide wi-fi "hot spots", and whether or not they charge for the use. Short of that, look for any "internet cafe's" or possibly, if you just need access and don't care if it is on your own computer, the library.
I hope that this was helpful, and that I didn't muddy the waters too much by trying to second-guess your confusing (to me) use of the terminology. Enjoy Paris: if you are on the Left Bank, look for a small alley called Rue Cler (maybe 1/2 km from the Tower) where we found an amazing cheese shop and other excellent street vendors!
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