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I try to connect to many unsecured Wi-Fi networks from my laptop. (e.g. BT OpenZone) Before connecting, when I check, the signal strength is shown good. When I connect to them, it gets connected but always says Local Access only or Limited Connectivity and I can never access the Internet. I am wondering what could be causing this?

1] Either the message which says Good Signal Strength is deceptive and in reality it is not good.

2] Problem in my Laptop Wi-Fi adapter (Broadcom adapter)

3] Some network setting on my laptop which is blocking it or causing this lack of Internet access.

Can anybody give some pointers?

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Do you even get an IP address assigned from those free networks? If not, then that's your problem. –  slhck Nov 2 '10 at 10:23
    
@slhck: I did not check the IP address earlier. I will check so today. thanks –  goldenmean Nov 2 '10 at 10:41
    
Are you sure these networks are intended for free Internet access, or are you just connecting to them and trying to piggyback? Without being sure about the owner, intended use, or configuration of the network, there's no way to guess as to what may be the cause of your problem. There's a number of access restrictions or mis-configurations that could be involved, both on the network side and the client side. –  Iszi May 3 '11 at 20:12
    
In addition to the details you've added via comments (IP address, web interface issues) could you please specify which OS you are working in, and what additional troubleshooting steps you've taken? –  Iszi May 3 '11 at 21:49

4 Answers 4

"Limited Connectivity" is the way Windows tells the user that it could associate with the AP (fair enough is there is no protection/restriction) but that the DHCP request timed out so that you don't get any IP address.

In places like airports or Internet cafés, this often means that all DHCP leases are taken up.

Sometimes it's because the configured lease is too long (e.g. in an airport, the average usage duration is one hour but the net admin left the DHCP lease set to its 24 hours default). So that there are plenty of unused IP addresses sitting there idle and doing nothing and plenty of would be users waiting for an IP address. With the advent of smartphones most of them fitted with WiFi capabilities, the phenomenon is getting worse and worse.

There is nothing to do with the fact that you did not authenticate because to authenticate or purchase some credit, you need the browser to work and therefore you need to be assigned an IP address in the first place.

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"Limited Connectivity" may be due to no IP address. However, "Local Access Only" usually means that the network connection was successful, but the system can't reach the Internet. –  Iszi May 4 '11 at 0:34
    
@Iszi. I'm afraif no. Local access only means you got a randomly generated address and (RFC 3927) in the 169.254.0.0/16 reserved block. These are local addresses because they can see each other on the Local LAN only through muticast DNS. Avahi (Linux) and Bonjour (Apple) are standard implementations of this RFC. –  Alain Pannetier May 14 '11 at 19:04

As @DaveSherohman has mentioned, many Wi-Fi networks which are intended for sharing Internet access (free or otherwise) do require you to perform some action via web form before granting that access. Necessary actions required could be one or more of a few things:

  • Registration for service. (Free or paid.)
  • Identification and/or Authentication
  • Acceptance of Terms

Typically, the web form is presented to you via a re-direct of your web requests to the local home page. However, if this is done via DNS re-direction, settings on the client can hinder these efforts.

Particularly, if you or your security software have configured the computer to use specific DNS servers instead of getting the settings via DHCP, you may have trouble accessing the web gateway's page.

For Windows: In the TCP/IP Properties dialog for your Wi-Fi connection, make sure that "Obtain DNS server address automatically" is checked. After clicking OK on this and OK on the Wi-Fi connection's Properties dialog, wait a few seconds and try opening another web page. You should be re-directed to the portal for whatever service you are connected to.

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The problem isn't with the RSSI, or your Wi-Fi adapter, or your laptop's configuration. The problem is with you.

You should not be connecting to wireless networks - secured or not - to which you do not have permission. Aside from being just plain rude, this can put you in violation of computer access laws depending on the local jurisdiction. Punishment for such crimes can include jail time, fines, and restrictions on access to computers and the Internet while on probation.

A quick Google search will reveal that BT OpenZone networks generally are not intended for un-paid Internet access.

http://www.btopenzone.com/

Access subscriptions range from £5.99 for 90 minutes within one day, to £39.00 for 4000 minutes over a month.

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1  
The hard part is determining whether the owner of the hotspot allows piggybacking or not. Many do invite sharing, of course, and given the morass of SSID name duplication, often people connect without even intending to, without knowing it, and without having any idea a particular network doesn't want visitors. Laws and practices vary widely. See Legality of piggybacking - Wikipedia –  nealmcb May 3 '11 at 21:27

In general, those sorts of open-access wi-fi networks require you to perform a web-based login before they'll allow access to anything beyond their gateway. Fortunately, finding the login form is easy: Just open a browser and attempt to visit any website; you'll be blocked and redirected to their login form.

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I was hoping to see some web based login/registration for going past their gateway to internet access. But When i try to open any site, I don't get web form from BT Open wifi gateway. –  goldenmean Nov 2 '10 at 16:05

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