Finding commercial wireless operators is easy — very often you can identify the signage hanging outside a coffee house or on the walls of a hotel lobby. If not, when you power up your Windows XP computer equipped with a wireless card, it will display a list of wireless networks available. Examining the SSIDs (see Chapter 2 for more information on SSIDs) will often allow you to identify the network operator instantly.
This section focuses on how you can locate wireless networks when on the road. It is useful as a guide to help you look out for wireless networks in places such as hotels, coffee houses, or libraries.
A simple way to discover wireless networks is to perform a site survey with your wireless network card. Doing a site survey is simple using either Windows XP’s built-in capabilities or an advanced tool such as NetStumbler.
Check out the utility software bundled with your wireless card. Very often it comes with an application that allows you to perform site surveys.
Windows XP’s Wireless Zero Configuration feature automatically discovers the available wireless networks in the vicinity (this feature was illustrated in Chapter 2). However, Windows XP does not allow you to see detailed information about the wireless networks, such as the number of access points available or where they are located. If you need the additional information, you should use the more sophisticated (and free) NetStumbler program.