Wireless Tips for Road Warriors

By Ronald Pacchiano

November 04, 2005

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.

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 Wi-Fi hotspots?

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 coffeehouses, hotels and even public libraries. Online resources such as Wi-Fi Hotspot List, Wi-Finder and Zone Finder are the closest things I've seen to anything that resembles a centralized Wi-Fi hotspot database. Just put in the city and state you want, 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 reports that there aren't any hotspots in your area, there probably 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 produce some additional listing.

You can also use an inexpensive Wi-Fi finder (like the Kensington Wi-Fi 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, it will search for 802.11b wireless transmissions. It automatically generates a signal when it finds a hotspot.

These devices are quicker and more convenient than booting up your notebook and starting an application like NetStumbler just to confirm an active, available Wi-Fi connection. 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 determine if the wireless network is public or private.

Also, keep in mind that "Public" doesn't necessarily mean free. Many Wi-Fi hotspots charge a connection fee, as do Wi-Fi subscription services offered by 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.

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 with my dial-up account. I devote most of my online time to e-mail and Instant Messaging, so the dialup connection really isn't a big issue. The problem is that the phone line's at the desk, and 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.

I'd really like to take advantage of my wireless connection and use it in conjunction with a dialup line when I travel. Is there anyway I can do that? Thanks.

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 lets you 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 you can install it in a matter of minutes. An easy-to-use configuration wizard assists you with setup and reduces the chances of a miss-configuration.

In addition to wireless conductivity, the unit also includes two built-in Ethernet ports, which means that laptops without Wi-Fi access can get online. 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 to take it anywhere — 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.

Adapted from PracticallyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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