Wi-fi, which stands for wireless fidelity, is a local area network that operates in the unlicensed 2.4 and 5 GHz radio bands, with an 11 Mbps or 54 Mbps data rate to transmit and receive data. "Hot spots," or wireless access points available for public use at many businesses, generally operate on the 2.4 GHz radio band.
Sitting on the porch at Baked in Telluride, a designated local hot spot, four wi-fi networks besides BIT's pop up on Brumley's laptop. "Jerry [Green, BIT owner] pays for his initial broadband Internet connection," says Brumley, "and then offers access to it for free to his customers through a wireless network. It's the 'work and surf' concept."
The broadband connection BIT receives is on the 5 GHz radio band, transmitted from a radio antenna provided by eTECH.
"We provide point-to-point broadband wireless," a slightly different service than what is commonly known as wi-fi, says eTECH president Ken Olson. "Our customers receive a direct signal from one of our five radio towers in the area."
From that initial connection, a wireless network can be set up in the immediate vicinity on the 2.4 GHz radio band, which is what BIT's public wi-fi service is on.
"Our customers are mainly people out on the mesas or down valley that don't have access to a physical broadband line," says Olson. "We can send a broadband signal from our radio towers to them."
A wireless network originates with a connection to broadband. eTECH's 5 GHz radio band can transmit up to 20 miles, but it cannot be picked by a laptop scanning for a wi-fi connection. An internal 2.4 GHz transmitter from that connection sends the signal out to be picked up by computers with wireless antennas within 150 feet of the building.
According to Brumley, the signal strength from BIT's wi-fi is excellent. "That's as good as it gets," he says. "From excellent it drops to 'very good,' 'good,' 'low,' and after that it stinks."
Signal strength can depend on several factors, including proximity to the transmitting antenna, barriers between the antenna and your computer, and any problems with the hardwire Internet connection.
"If there is nothing in between you and the antenna you can walk 150 feet away and still get a good signal," says Brumley. "Doors and walls and windows interfere."
The lower the signal strength, the more frequently a user will get bumped off the network.
Along with BIT, the New Sheridan Hotel and Telluride Coffee Company offer free wi-fi access to their customers; the Inn at Lost Creek, the Mountain Village Conference Center and Steaming Bean offer pay-as-you-go wi-fi service; and the Wilkinson Public Library and Scott Brown's Tech Fest office on main street offer open wi-fi networks.
"We put our network in five years ago," says Brown. "It's one of the oldest wireless networks in the nation. We spent a lot of money to get it started, but now that Telluride has broadband, it's so simple, anyone can do it."
Of the four networks available from BIT's porch, two are secure, meaning a login and password are needed to connect. The other two are open and available to anyone with an integrated wireless antenna or wireless card.
"My advice is don't say anything online that you don't want on the front page of the paper," says Brown, who recommends using an encryption method when accessing a wireless network. "As security technology increases, so do the skills of those who want to break into the system."
Brumley agrees, saying that if someone really wants to hack into a secured wireless network they will, but the same is true of your home or car. "That's just the reality of it. Some people argue that your cell phone is less secure," says Brumley. "I heard a quote one time, 'I talk quietly on my cell phone so if some one has tapped my line they can't hear me.' I guess if someone is afraid to use wireless, maybe they should use a blanket and fire."
Between BIT and Brumley's home, three blocks away on Pacific St., 13 different wi-fi networks show up, both secure and open.
"Some of these are home networks," explains Brumley. "Some are business and not all are Internet."
Wireless connections can also be used for non-Internet data transmission between two locations. The Telluride 360 real estate office in Mountain Village has one such network.
"We have an internal wireless network and an external one," says 360's office manager Adam Black. "Our internal one is secure, it's our office network. The external one is separate."
The external network is shared by the Telluride Coffee Company next door where users can access it by going into the coffee shop for the login and password.
The trend in larger cities is for a wi-fi service to offer hot spots in designated areas with a fee structure in place for access. Such a network is available at the Telluride Conference Center.
"A lot of people in the Village need a quick way to access the Internet," says the Telluride Conference Center's Travis Julia. Users connecting to that organization's network are directed to HiSpeed4U's website, a company out of Durango that offers broadband wireless connections. The service has a pay-as-you-go or anytime minutes fee structure.
"People can come into the conference center's mezzanine to access the wireless," says Julia, "or connect out in Heritage Plaza." Minutes purchased can be used at any hot spot provided by the company, including those in Durango and Silverton.
To locate wireless hot spots in Colorado and around the country, log onto www.wififreespot.com.