Free and Easy

Thanks to a small army of enthusiasts, free wireless Web access is sprouting up all around the world. But how long can it last?

If you're not looking closely, it's easy to miss the wi-fi antenna atop San Bruno mountain just south of San Francisco. There are a couple of dozen TV and radio broadcast towers, each about 300 ft. tall, surrounded with chain-link fences and electromagnetic radiation warning signs. The wi-fi antenna is a solitary 18-in. plastic stick that radio engineer Tim Pozar stuck up there on his day off. If it disappeared, fewer than a hundred people would notice. "It takes geeks like me, putting up antennas, to make this work," says Pozar.

What the geeks get in return is nothing short of...

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