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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

Locating WiFi hotspots
Considering how much quicker broadband is compared to dial-up, 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 as 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 always the 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.

Key Terms To Understanding Wireless Networks

Short for wireless fidelity and is meant to be used generically when referring of any type of 802.11 network, whether 802.11b, 802.11a, dual-band, etc. The term is promulgated by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

A specific geographic location in which an access point provides public wireless broadband network services to mobile visitors through a WLAN.

A type of data transmission in which a single medium (wire) can carry several channels at once.

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

Products to Help Take Advantage of Your Wireless Connection

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 dial-up 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 Wi-Fi 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 a conference room or a meeting area where network access isn't usually available.

The Always On WiFlyer isn't the only portable wireless access point/router option on the market, although there are only a few. If you regularly rely on dial-up connectivity when traveling or you want the option to easily create a wireless network connection, the WiFlyer is definitely worth looking into.


Did You Know...
Starbucks claims to have built the largest footprint of Wi-Fi hot spots in the world in their stores. In October2005 Starbucks announced they were teaming up with Bell to provide hotspots in 400 locations throughout Canada as well.

Related Category: Webopedia > Mobile Computing > Wireless Computing

By Ron Pacchiano
Adapted from Practically Networked.
Last updated: December 2, 2005

Related Links

Wi-Fi HotSpot List is the leading resource for finding wireless access points around the world. Thousands of Wi-Fi HotSpot locations are listed and new sites are added daily.

Wi-Fi Planet
Wi-Fi Planet (formerly 802.11 Planet) is your complete guide to the world of networking products based on the various 802.11 wireless networking protocols (collectively known as Wi-Fi). With daily news, features, reviews, and tutorials, Wi-Fi Planet covers all areas of the rapidly changing wireless LAN universe.

Always On Wireless
WiFlyer enables you to have a portable, shareable wireless connection on either dialup or broadband. Simply connect the WiFlyer to an ordinary phone line or Ethernet cable and connect wirelessly to laptops or PDAs. The powerful, but lightweight WiFlyer is small enough to fit in your briefcase or laptop bag and can be installed instantly. Compatible with any 802.11b or 802.11g wireless-ready laptop or PDA.

Wi-Fi Product Watch
The latest updates and new products in wireless networking: new EV-DO handsets for Verizon and Alltel; AirMagnet has upgraded Laptop Analyzer; mosquitoes could soon be controlled by Wi-Fi; and more.

Deciphering the Latest Wireless Acronyms
Stumped by acronyms such as WPA2 and WMM? You're not alone. We define these new terms and, more importantly, explain why you need to care about them.

VoIP Meets WiFi - An Introduction to VoIP, WiFi and VoWiFi
The advances of VoIP and Internet telephony in general have come a long way since their inception. Most recently, the "next big thing" has been to merge Wi-Fi with VoIP, producing one of the oddest acronyms you'll ever see. VoWiFi. VoWiFi, or Voice over Wireless Fidelity, simply means a Wi-Fi based VoIP service . or in even more general terms, a wireless based VoIP system.

Practically Networked
PracticallyNetworked has provided practical, easy-to-understand help for small network builders since early 1998. The site contains the most complete "How-To" information for setting up Internet sharing found anywhere! Users can find extensive troubleshooting information, tips on getting special applications to work through firewalls, and product reviews on Hardware Routers, Wireless and HomePNA LAN products, and more!

Wi-Fi Protected Access Overview (PDF)
An explanatory document from the Wi-Fi Alliance.

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