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Tips for Better Wi-Fi on the Road

Note that many hotel wireless systems have been set up somewhat willy-nilly; one connectivity expert I know has seen systems that he says "can barely support a home network, let alone a hotel full of business travelers zooming PowerPoint presentations around the Net." One in particular, a single Linksys home router in a janitorial closet on every other floor, performed particularly poorly. If you can position yourself to pick off a bit more of the signal, you may do much better.

And just because the hotel Web site says "Free Wireless Internet" doesn't mean you'll be working from your king bed. Wireless may be available only in the lobby, the restaurant or other select parts of the hotel.

computer man Go to an empty gate.
In airports where Wi-Fi is "ubiquitous," there will be numerous antennae posted throughout the airport. If you sit at your packed gate, you are competing with everyone else on your flight for the single proximate antenna. Moving to an empty gate or waiting area will give you better data speeds with the same signal strength. When you move, a glance at your signal gauge will let you know whether you have sacrificed signal for solitude.

Note that not all gates have wireless access; search for your airport on JiWire.com to get the which and where of airport hotspots.

Invest in some Wi-Fi gadgets.
Directional and long-range Wi-Fi antenna cards can significantly increase the strength of your signal. One note: reception on certain Apple wireless cards can underperform many PC cards. If you are having trouble with your Apple reception, long-range cards may help you considerably.

Some travelers prefer not to be trapped at the desk in their hotel rooms, especially at the end of the business day. Additionally, multiple occupants of the same hotel room may want to access the Internet at the same time. You can achieve either by investing in a portable wireless router. Apple offers a Cellular Travel Router, and Cradlepoint has the Mobile Broadband Travel Router. Most reputable wireless router retailers offer a travel router of some stripe.

Find a jack.
Anyone who has a typical home wireless setup knows that the computer that is jacked directly into the modem has the best signal. When you plug into a jack in an airport lounge full of folks competing for Wi-Fi, your one becomes equal to their many. That is, your computer plugged into the jack has as clear access to the larger network as does the one antenna being used by 40 people. Your data speed will soar.

You can often find jacks in your hotel room, as well as at airports -- I have found jacks both in airline lounges as well as in public waiting areas in major airports. When in doubt, jack in!

The rule of thumb you can take away from the scenarios laid out above: Strong signals combined with small crowds make for better Wi-Fi -- the law of supply and demand trumps all once again.

To discuss this and other Traveler's Ed articles, visit the Traveler's Ed Message Board.

Go Anyway,
Ed Hewitt
Features Editor
The Independent Traveler


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