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Troubleshooting Q&A - October 27, 2005

Wireless Tips for Road Warriors

If you travel a lot for work, chances are good that your notebook PC is equipped with a wireless adapter. So it's understandable that you hate the thought of being tethered to a wired Internet connection — especially a dialup one. Follow these tips if you find yourself away from home and looking for a wireless connection.

By Ron Pacchiano

Q.   I recently started a new job with a five-state sales territory. I'd like to use my notebook on the road with my wireless connection, rather than the slower dial-up modem. Aside from a couple of hotels and a mall restaurant, I haven't come across any other locations that offer wireless access. Any idea how I can go about locating more WiFi hotspots?

A.   Considering how much quicker broadband is compared to dialup, your desire for wireless access while on the road is understandable. Fortunately, more and more areas are setting up public hotspots, so taking advantage of wireless conductivity is getting easier by the day.

You can find many in coffee houses, hotels and even public libraries. Online resources such /Wi-Fi Hotspot List, WiFinder and Zone Finder are the closest things I've seen to anything that resembles a centralized WiFi hotspot database. Just put in the city and state that you're located in and it will give you a list of all the registered hotspots in the area. This is not foolproof, though, and there is a good possibility that even if it indicates that there are no hotspots in your area, more than likely there are. They just might be a bit harder to find.

The simplest way to locate these networks is to just ask people local to the area. The hotel manager is usually a good place to start. I'd even recommend asking some of your clients. Who would know the area better then the people who live and work there? You might even be able to do a Google search for the particular city your visiting and that might possibly produce some additional listing.

Another method you can use to assist in your search for wireless conductivity is to use an inexpensive WiFi finder (like the Kensington WiFi Finder) to detect and confirm the presence of WiFI radio signals. This device is about the size of a car remote and can be clipped to a key chain for convenient access. When activated, they search for 802.11b wireless transmissions. It will automatically generate a signal to let you know when one has been located.

These devices are far quicker and more convenient to use than booting up your notebook and starting an application like NetStumbler just to confirm whether an active WiFi connection is available. Prices for these devices start at about $30. Once you locate a hotspot, though, you may need to use detection software on your PC anyway to distinguish if the wireless network you found is public or private.

Also, you should keep in mind though that "Public" doesn't necessarily mean free. Many WiFi hotspots charge a connection fee, as do WiFi subscription services such as those offered by some mobile phone providers. With thousands of new WiFi hotspots coming online every year, you should be able to locate one in the area you're visiting without too much difficulty.

Q.   My job requires me to travel quite a bit, so I spend much of my time in hotels. Surprisingly (to me anyway), many of the hotels I stay at don't have broadband access. In these situations I'm stuck having to use my dial-up account. Most of my online time is devoted to e-mail and Instant Messaging, so the dialup connection really isn't a big issue. The problem is that I hate getting trapped at the desk where the phone line is. I'd like to be able to sit on the couch in front of the TV or possibly even work outside on the deck (where the phone jack is inaccessible). My notebook is equipped with a wireless adapter, which I use at home and in the office with our broadband connection.

If possible, I'd really like to be able to take advantage of my wireless connection and use it in conjunction with a dialup line when I travel. Is there anyway I can accomplish this? Thanks!

A.   As a matter of fact, there is. Recently, I came across a product called the WiFlyer from a company called Always on Wireless. The WiFlyer enables you to have a portable, shareable, wireless connection using either a dialup or a broadband Internet connection. This lightweight unit is small enough to fit in your briefcase or laptop bag, and can be installed in matter of minutes. An easy-to-use configuration wizard is available to assist you in setting up the unit, minimizing the chances of a miss configuration.

In addition to wireless conductivity, the unit is also equipped with two built-in Ethernet ports. So laptops without WiFi access can get online as well. To protect your connection, the WiFlyer enables you to set encryption, MAC address filtering, and other security controls. The WyFlyer is particularly useful if you happen to be traveling with a friend or other companions who also need to get online. Thanks to its portable size, it's easy for you to take it anywhere you need to get Internet access — especially in locations such as conference rooms or meeting areas where network access isn't available.

Always On's WiFlyer isn't the only portable wireless access point/router option on the market, of course (although there are only a few). But if you regularly rely on dialup connectivity when traveling or if you want the option to easily create a wireless network connection, the WiFlyer is definitely worth looking into.

Use our feedback form to submit your questions on home or SOHO networking issues. Please be as specific as possible. We cannot guarantee to answer every question we get, but we’ll consider them all.



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