Domestic Diversions

Wi-Fi on the Road

Many hotels now offer free wireless Internet access. The Hilton hotel chain, which includes the value-priced Hampton Inn group, generally offers free in-room Wi-Fi. However, some chains offer only wired high speed Internet in guest rooms. That means your laptop is tethered to the desk where the network jack is located, or it can go as far as the Cat5 network cable you probably forgot to bring with you now that everywhere else you visit has gone wireless.
The solution to this problem is a portable wireless travel router. It does what your home wireless router does, but is much more compact to facilitate packing it in a spare corner of your laptop bag. One of the best travel routers is the 3Com OfficeConnect Travel Router. It lists for $90. It has excellent speed and range (you can share the wireless connection with colleagues several rooms to either side of your room). If your travel frequently and need wireless Internet access even where Wi-Fi is not yet intstalled, this is something you should have with you.

Additional info on Wi-Fi security when on the road (and at home):

1. Change the default password that comes with your router. For example, most Linksys routers use “admin” as the default password. Anyone within range of your router/access point may be able to guess the default password and use it to gain wireless access to your information.

2. Change the router’s default SSID (Service Set Identifier). This is the name of the wireless network created by your router. Like default passwords, the default SSID’s are very well known. For example, the SSID for Linksys wireless networks is, oddly enough, “linksys”. Other default SSID’s include “belkin”, “wireless”, and “default”. SSID’s can be up to 32 characters long, and are case sensitive, so create a non-obvious SSID. Hackers looking for unsecured wireless networks typically look for networks still running the default SSID’s.

3. “Hide” the SSID. Now that you’ve changed the SSID from the default, set your wireless access point or router to NOT broadcast the SSID. Doing so will require you to manually set the SSID and other security information on your wireless notebook (or desktop if at home), but will discourage the casual network snoop. A dedicated network intruder can still find the SSID, but will have to work harder for it.

4. Use MAC (Media Access Code) filtering to restrict the computer which are permitted to access your wireless network. Nearly all modern wireless routers and access points let you type in one or a dozen (or more) network card MAC address and specify that only computers using those wireless network cards are permitted to connect to the network. The MAC address is unique to each network card and is usually printed on the wireless network adapter or, where the card is built into the notebook computer, often on the bottom of the notebook. It consists of 12 alphanumeric characters, typically in six groups of two characters each. If you cannot find the MAC address for your wireless network card, try this:

a. Click on the Start button and select Run.
b. In the Open box, type the following: command
c. Click on OK. The command prompt will appear.
d. At the command prompt, type: ipconfig /all
e. If your computer has a wireless network card, information will appear under Ethernet adapter Wireless Network Connection. Under this section, there will be an item listed as Physical Address. The combination of twelve letters and numbers shown next to the Physical Address is the MAC address.

2 thoughts on “Wi-Fi on the Road

  1. Don

    good tip Scott, I had no idea they now make them portable
    even my regular one isn’t all that big

    what security concerns should I have? Does it have encryption protection?

  2. Darrin

    Apple has a great little one that is all in one, cord, charger, and router. No extra cords to tangle. Has encryption and all the features of a regular base. and yes, it is pc compatible and very easy to use/set up.

    I keep a small flag on it as well as an address label. When I have it out of my laptop bag and plugged in, I put the flag on my bag, that way I know when the unit is in the wall, when I am packing, I get the unit and put the flag back on it. To create a flag, get a laminated card/book mark and a couple of pieces of velcro put it on the back of the flag, the router and your laptop. It has saved me from losing it.

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