Wireless Tips for Road Warriors
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.
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.
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