Laptop Wireless Internet Access

Laptop Wireless Internet Access – Introduction

So, you’ve got a laptop, its wireless capable, and you’re all set to connect up to the Internet but how so?

Well, there are several options open to you to obtain laptop wireless Internet access depending upon where and how you wish to connect and we will endeavour to cover most of these in detail thereby allowing you to make an informed choice that suits your needs and budget.

Wireless Internet access can be via your laptop or notebooks own built in wireless adapter, via an add on wireless adapter which connects via your USB port or by adding a Mobile Broadband USB dongle which again connects to your USB port and will allow you to surf the web almost anywhere that you can obtain a standard cell phone signal. 

Laptop Wireless Internet Access – Wi-Fi Connection

At home or office your Wi-Fi connection will allow you to connect, via a wireless access point or broadband wireless router to a broadband Internet connection as long as you don’t stray too far away from the wireless signal.

The range for this type of connection will vary greatly depending upon many factors such as walls, floors, nearby cordless phones or other interference but for most people this method of connection is perfectly adequate for home and office use with a typical wireless signal range of up to 300 feet. 

Laptop Wireless Internet Access – Wireless Hotspots

If you are a frequent traveller say or maybe you just like to have the option of using your laptop when out and about you will find that more and more businesses, airports, railway stations, hotels, coffee shops etc offer free or paid laptop wireless Internet access via a wireless ‘hotspot’.

Hotspots are popping up everywhere!

A wireless hotspot is simply a wireless access point that has been made public.

Available networks will show up via the wireless icon in the ‘Notification Area’ on your Windows desktop – look at the bottom right-hand corner of your screen for the wireless icon and left click to view available networks.

A good tip here for obtaining the strongest signal, and therefore the fastest connection speed, is to ask the staff at the hotspot of your choice where the wireless access point is located and make sure that you locate yourself as close as possible for the best reception.

Room layouts can play havoc with the signal and it’s worth checking this out and making sure there are no walls etc between you and the wireless signal.

When connecting up you may need to enter a code which the staff will be able to supply you with.

When surfing, if you leave your laptop or notebook alone for a while, you may find that your session keeps ‘timing out’ and you need to log back on to reactivate your connection.

This can be annoying when you stop browsing to chat or drink that coffee – to stop this happening simply run your fingers over the touchpad every now and then to alert the connection to the fact that you are still using it. 

Laptop Wireless Internet Access – Hotspot Security

There is a downside to using a public hotspot though and that’s lack of security!

To enable one and all to connect simply to these handy hotspots means that the signal is delivered without any form of security or encryption or if there is encryption then everyone else who has used or is using the hotspot knows what it is.

So, big warning here, this means anyone else who has wireless access can gain access to your laptop or notebook unimpeded unless you take the necessary measures to prevent this – the onus is with you!

You will need to ensure that you have your Windows Firewall or third party software firewall enabled and correctly set up and that your firewall is set to disallow the sharing of files and printers.

See our Windows Firewall guide for further information regarding this important but easily configured option.

If you are using a wireless hotspot to connect to your office via a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection then you will be protected by the fact that the data will be encrypted.

Otherwise, you must make sure you take steps to secure your connection.

For Vista and Windows 7 users you can do this by right clicking on your wireless icon in the ‘Notification Area’ of your desktop (bottom right hand corner of your screen).

Now select ‘Open Network and Sharing Center’ and click on ‘Windows Firewall’.

Select ‘Change Settings’ and then ‘Block all incoming connections’.

For Windows XP Service Pack 2 right click on your wireless icon in the notification area and select ‘Change Windows Firewall Settings’ and then click on ‘Don’t allow exceptions’ and then click ‘Ok’

Vista and Windows XP users must make sure to turn off ‘File and Printer Sharing’.

Do not enter any sensitive data such as passwords, account numbers, bank details, credit card details etc and ensure that you use a secure SSL type connection for accessing your email.

Try to use Google mail when you are on the move as it provides a secure connection by default. 

Laptop Wireless Internet Access – Free Hotspots

Now, not all wireless hotspots offer free connection but search around and you can usually find somewhere that will.

Before going on a journey spend a little time surfing the web to check out the available hotspots and whether they offer free access or not.

Try ‘My Hotspots’, ‘JiWire’ or ‘Hotspot Locations’ and do a search for hotspots with free access.

Connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot is easy – just turn on your laptop and provided your wireless is enabled on your laptop (some laptops and notebooks have a switch to turn wireless capabilities on and off), your laptop should indicate that it has found new network.

Select the correct service – there may be several in the local vicinity so you need to check which service name you are looking for – usually the strongest signal,, select it and click ‘Ok’ to connect.

You may need to enter a username which the staff at the hotspot will be able to give you. 

Laptop Wireless Internet Access – Mobile Broadband

Laptop wireless Internet access can also be achieved by using the same wireless signal that your cell phone uses.

This can be extremely useful if you need to get fast easy access wherever you may be – provided of course there is cell phone coverage for the area you are in!

Wireless ‘hotspots’ although extremely handy for checking your emails etc are limited to access in just one ‘spot’ – your chosen ‘hotspot’.

Mobile Broadband however offers you a permanent broadband connection pretty much wherever your cell phone signal exists.

No more having to search around for the nearest wireless ‘hotspot’ as you move around the city and you can forget it once you are out on the road!

Now, Mobile Broadband, although wireless in nature, does not use the same technology as your home wireless network or the wireless networks available at the public hotspots for instance.

Your home wireless network runs on the Wi-Fi Alliance 802.11b, g or n standard which only transmits and receives over short distances.

Mobile Broadband makes use of the same wireless networks that your cell phone uses – pretty much a nationwide coverage with continuous connection as you roam around the country seamlessly switching from one local cell to another with no loss of signal.

So who supplies the service? Your cell phone company of course via their cell phone networks!

Initially, pricing for Mobile Broadband was quite high but the prices are rapidly falling to the point where this technology is fast competing with your home network ISP provider! 

Laptop Wireless Internet Access – Accessing Mobile Broadband

How do you make use of Mobile Broadband?

Most laptops and notebooks are now wireless capable straight out of the box but this is for use with the Wi-Fi 802.11b, g and n type networks – not mobile broadband.

To be able to use mobile broadband you will need to obtain a USB, PC Card or ExpressCard mobile broadband aircard which you will obtain when you sign up with your supplier.

The USB type broadband cards look just like your USB memory stick but in actual fact they are really cut down simplified versions of your cell phone!

Yes, a cell phone minus the battery, keypad and screen but with all the electronics required for transmitting and receiving your cell signal crammed inside!

USB type mobile broadband cards are the most compatible for laptops as all laptops nowadays have a USB port.

PC Cards or PCMCIA cards used to be widely available on laptops but these are now being replaced by the newer ExpressCard slots for laptop expansion devices.

Mobile Broadband is also available via ExpressCards which fit into a slot on the side of your laptop providing a much neater solution over the USB types as they are less prone to falling out or being knocked out.

Do ensure though to ensure you have the correct size – mobile broadband uses the 34mm wide card types and not the wider 54mm type although the 34mm card should fit into the 54mm slot happily. Do make sure you check before you buy!

Ok, off you go now and check out the latest deals from the cell companies, make your choice and away you go! 

Laptop Wireless Internet Access – Mobile Broadband Speed

Once you’ve selected, installed and set up your mobile broadband card you will achieve pretty fast operating speeds due to the use of the latest 3G cell phone networks.

Note though that these network speeds can vary greatly between service providers and you will need to spend some time selecting carefully.

There are other services which may offer faster connection such as HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) but most people should be happy with the standard 3G service which will allow you to surf the web, email, social networking etc with no real holdups.

Another service that is appearing recently is WiMax (or 4G) which promises high speed internet access just like you would expect to achieve using your home broadband connection.

WiMax is currently only available in a few cities across the USA but is sure to catch on due to average speeds of 5Mbps and peak speeds of almost twice this figure! 

Laptop Wireless Internet Access – MiFi

Another cute little device that’s making its way on to the marketplace is MiFi.

Just what is Mi-Fi? Well it’s a very clever idea brought to you by a number of companies such as Novatel, D-Link and Sierra Wireless. It’s basically a mobile broadband access point!

It receives a mobile broadband cell signal and then converts it into a standard Wi-Fi signal which can be picked up by your laptop using it’s built in wireless network adapter.

What’s the benefit? Simple, it’s a self contained wireless access point that can be accessed simultaneously by all of your wireless devices such as your notebook, laptop, ipad etc all sharing the same mobile broadband cell signal!

And this little beauty is completely wireless! Yep, battery operated, self contained, mobile broadband to Wi-Fi all in one cute little package the size of an iphone!

Laptop Wireless Internet Access – FON

Another great way to obtain a Wi-Fi connection for free or for a small fee is through the FON network.

FON, founded in Spain, is a growing network of like minded individuals who allow other FON members to use their FON Wi-Fi router internet connection for free.

How does this work?

All you need to do is purchase a Wi-Fi router from FON, which you can set up at home; allowing other FON members to gain access through when they are in range of your signal.

Why would you do this?

Well, as part of the FON community you will also be able to jump on the FON network wherever you may be provided there is a FON signal within reach of your laptop wireless adapter.

FON is catching on big time and the aim is to eventually be able to access the internet for free wherever you may be!

Even in smaller residential areas a quick search of the FON network will show users all over the country.

Plus, you can charge non – FON members a small fee in exchange for using your connection!

Well, we hope that’s given you a taster of what’s on offer out there to enable you to obtain wireless internet for laptop, notebook and all you’re other wireless devices wherever you may be.