While I've had a cell phone for the better part of a quarter century, there are two things that I've never had to deal with: 1) a full price for a cell phone monthly plan (I've always had dealer lines), and 2) had a phone with WiFi built in.
Because I've had a dealer plan, I've always had the top of the line phones with voice, texting and data, so really there's never been a need for WiFi, and most of the carriers don't make WiFi available in their phones. However, when I got this last smartphone that included the ability to work with wireless routers, I thought it would be interesting to experiment and find out how available free WiFi might be, and if it was everything that people said it was.
I remember a few years back before mobile broadband cards were widely available I had a laptop that I would ride along with on training calls. If you wanted Internet signal, you could park near any office complex and mini mall and pick up a wireless network. Apparently, over the last few years, those things have changed.
The mall that I frequent was a no brainer. I walked in, and set my phone to scan for wifi spots, and in seconds I had about five. "Great", I thought, "This will be easier than I figured." However, as I started reviewing the networks, most of then were secured, which requires a username and password. I even tried logging onto the unsecured networks, and had no luck. I finally located the mall WiFi, which has a little splash page where you agree to use their network for good and not evil, and away I went. The surfing was good, I was able to collect my email, and all in all, it was a pretty decent experience.
Later that day, I went to grab an espresso from the local Starbucks to try my luck. I'd had alot of people tell me that it was available at no charge, or so they thought. I ordered my drink, sat down, set my phone to scan, and yet again, came up with three to four possible networks, both secured, and unsecured. I located the attwifi network, and expected a similar experience to my previous mall experience. Unfortunately, you only have a couple of paid options for Wifi at your local Starbucks; you can pay either 3.99 for two hours, or you have to get a Starbucks reward card. Not ready to relinquish my dream, I grabbed my drink and wandered off to home, where I do have WiFi, but seriously, if I'm at home, I'm using my laptop for web and email.
A day later, I wandered into a Best Buy, hoping that they could shed some light on the subject. Sadly, they reported pretty much the same story as above, but they were kind enough to impart a store secret: Best Buy has a wifi network that is free to access, you just need to know the name of the network. Its BestBuy (creative, aren't they). I logged in, and waited...and waited..and connected! Great! Unfortunately, they have their own version of netnanny, so I wasn't able to surf to every site I wanted (even when its not adult oriented).
I tried the park a few days later, and was suprised yet again to find a few networks in range. I couldn't log into any of them, but I did get a kick out of some of the networks names (most were too graphic to be published in this forum).
In the week that I've had this phone, I really miss the fact of good old fashioned mobile web, available any time I wanted, as much as I wanted. Seriously, I'm a little on the happy side that most cell phone providers require a web package with their smartphones. About 2/3 of the cool things you can do with this phone are impaired without it. Don't count on Wifi to be a primary web provider, it should remain in the background as a great way to round out your carrier's EDGE or 3G network.