The mall the merrier as WiFi goes public...Sputnik, a US business launched by the founders of open source software company Linuxcare is taking free wireless networking to the public in an attempt to create a nationwide network. Sputnik is the third organisation in recent months to begin pushing the spread of the 802.11b wireless connection standard - nicknamed WiFi - from the home into public areas. So far Sputnik has got 200 hotspots working, within which a user of a WiFi modem card with a net connection and Ethernet port can surf. The difference between Sputnik and its rivals is not only the fact the surfing is free, it's also providing free downloads of the required software which some analysts have said is not a viable business plan. Sputnik's competitors - Boingo, founded by Earthlink boss Sky Dayton, and Joltage - roll out the WiFi equipment and take a share in the profits from users of the service along with the network's host on the ground such as a café or shopping centre. Advocates of the standard are touting it as a replacement for cable modems and digital subscriber lines, yet WiFi's relative lack of protection from hackers may suspend its ascension to the high-speed internet access throne for some time.