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Spotting hot spots with a cell phone

The Wi-Fi Alliance announces an application that lets people with cell phones or other devices that use the Wireless Application Protocol wirelessly search for nearby hot spots.

An industry group has launched a free service to address a major issue with Wi-Fi hot-spots: finding one.

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced Monday that individuals with cell phones or other devices that use the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) will be able to wirelessly search for and download lists of nearby hot spots wherever they happen to be. Users can access the list by entering "" into their WAP-enabled device. The application can't be accessed from a computer.

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The new application is part of the group's efforts to connect more people to hot spots and Wi-Fi networking technology. The group has over 6,000 locations in 50 countries on its list.

Efforts to help consumers locate hot spots are one of the top priorities for the group and companies within the Wi-Fi industry. The nature of Wi-Fi technology, which limits network coverage to a 300-foot radius from an access point, and the infancy of the hot-spot industry, makes finding service a challenge for consumers.

Network operators and analysts have said that nationwide hot-spot coverage is not likely, but that more hot spots will be installed over time, making it easier for consumers to get service. In the meantime, improved identification of hot spots would likely help the industry and consumers.

Network operators are expected to install more than 55,000 new hot spots in the United States over the next five years, adding to the 4,200 installed as of the end of 2002, according to research firm IDC.

"The public access market is still in the early stages of development," said Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance. "The No. 1 issue we hear about is that consumers need help finding hot spots. This program and application should help and will ensure a certain level of service since it will only identify networks using Wi-Fi approved equipment."