Mobile Wi-Fi slowly, awkwardly starts to come together

You can access Wi-Fi networks on the go in lots of places, though hassles and price gouging remain common

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Likewise, most Wi-Fi signup pages at hotels and airports assume you're connecting from a laptop, and don't bother to detect you're using a handheld and, thus, reformat the page automatically. You get pages that are hard to navigate on a mobile device, whose buttons are hard to click, whose page templates don't always allow zooming in, and that sometimes rely on Flash (which locks out the most popular mobile Web device, the iPhone). The airlines have figured it out, and there's no reason hotel chains can't do so as well.

Web developers, It is very easy to detect what type of device is accessing your site or page by using the .htaccess file on your Apache server or a JavaScript to detect the user agent (device identifier). Here are the common IDs you should be looking for:

  • *Mobile.*Safari (iPhone and iPod Touch)
  • *iPad
  • *BlackBerry8
  • *BlackBerry9
  • *MSIE\ 6.*Windows\ CE (Windows Mobile 6.x)
  • *Android
  • *Nokia.*WebKit
  • *Blazer/4 (Palm OS 4)
  • *Opera.*Mini/4
  • *Opera.*Mini/5

Inflight Wi-Fi aimed at handheld users
About that Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi service: It was available on most flights I took on Alaska, American, Delta, and JetBlue; United and AirTran advertise it too. It's pricey, at $8 per segment for handheld devices for flights of more than 90 minutes' duration, and $13 for laptops for flights of more than three hours' duration. It's $5 for flights of less than 90 minutes' duration, and $10 for laptop access on flights of between 90 minutes and three hours' duration.

You can't log in via a laptop if you pay for the handheld service, though you can connect from a handheld if you pay for the laptop service; if you buy a $35 monthly subscription, you can use either device on any supported flight. Aircell, which provides the service, says it charges more for laptops because they use more bandwidth. Naturally, there's no roaming allowed outside Gogo-equipped planes.

Aircell forbids VoIP and discourages streaming media, warning that the service may get very slow or stop altogether if you stream video. Because it is a private network, Gogo can ration bandwith any way it likes. Thus, you should do your iTunes, Netflix, or what-have-you downloads before you get on the plane -- theoretically. A company spokeswoman says that streaming is the fifth most popular usage, after Web browsing, email, instant messaging, and VPN access. You can forget about using services like Skype, though I have to say I'm not unhappy that people can't be chatting all around me on the phone during flights.

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