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Wireless Surfing 101

Here we’ll present an overview of the most common wireless options used today.

Note: Most laptops or netbooks are Wi-Fi enabled, with the transceiver that’s needed for wireless connectivity already built-in. If you have devices that aren’t Wi-Fi enabled, you can purchase a wireless network adapter.

AT HOME: Home network
If you’ll be using your PC primarily at home, setting up a wireless home network might be the best option for you. This method is reliable, secure, and flexible – you can set it up with the features that you want. Probably the only disadvantage is that you won’t have internet access when you do leave home.

If you haven’t already, you’ll want to sign up with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and you’ll also need to purchase a modem and a router (or a combination modem/router). The router is what enables the wireless connection; 802.11g is a good choice. If you have any questions when setting up your home network, check if your ISP or the manufacturer of your router offers any instruction, or check the web for tips; many sites offer instructions for specific hardware or operating systems.

AWAY FROM HOME: Wi-fi hotspots
Hotspots are public areas that allow you to wirelessly connect to the internet. They can be found in coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, airports, and more. Some hotspots are free, while some charge a fee; airports in particular can be expensive.

Most of the commercial hotspots contract with Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) to provide internet access. So rather than regularly paying the hourly fee at your favorite coffee shop, you could consider purchasing a WISP subscription. With your own subscription, the WISP will automatically detect and connect you to their local hotspots; depending on your usage, it may be less costly than paying by the hour. Plans vary, from daily to monthly to annual subscriptions, and cost ranges from about $20-$60 per month.

To find hotspot locations near you, check sites such as JiWire, Free-hotspot.com, WiFiHotSpotList.com, and others. Hotspot-finder sites like these will find hotspots near a given address, indicate whether the hotspot is free or associated with a WISP, and show the provider of an associated WISP. If you’re considering your own WISP subscription, it’s a good idea to first check the coverage of the different providers on a hotspot-finder site before you commit to a plan.

ANYWHERE: Cellular network
Many of the newer laptops can be used on cell phone networks that have data capability. This is the most mobile of the options – you have access anywhere there’s a phone signal. But one disadvantage is that some cellular connections can be a lot slower than a Wi-Fi connection.

If you already have internet service on your phone, contact your provider about any additional fees and devices needed to connect your computer. If you don’t already have internet service, you can subscribe to just the data service portion of a cell phone plan; contact providers for information and to find out what adapter or network card you’ll need. Plans typically range from $20-$50 per month.

Conclusion
The most practical option – or combination of options – depends on how and where you’ll be using your PC. Frequent business travelers might like the mobility of a cellular network, while a WISP subscription could be the most convenient and cost-effective approach for students. And if you’ll mainly be using your computer around the house, you can consider setting up a home network and then using hotspots when you’re on the go.

iolo UptoSpeed

UpToSpeed™ is iolo's ongoing article series written by PC experts for everyday computer users. Each article is packed with easy tips and practical advice on the latest issues affecting computers to help you get the most out of your PC.






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