Even though many hotels do not yet offer wireless access in their rooms, there's no reason why you can't take matters into your own hands and make your room wireless. Several products are on the market that let you plug a Wi-Fi base station into an Ethernet jacksuch as the one in your room. Bringing your own portable wireless base station lets you move freely about your room and do your work from wherever. It's perfect for those who like to multitask in the bathroom.
Typically, a portable wireless base station plugs into a wall outlet for power and has an Ethernet port into which you connect the cable from the hotel's Ethernet jack. It then communicates wirelessly with the Wi-Fi card in your laptop, giving you a magical invisible cable that releases you from the confines of your room's Internet port.
A number of products on the market are designed to help you go wireless on the road. Check out the Pocket Router/AP from D-Link (www.dlink.com), or Apple's AirPort Express (www.apple.com/airportexpress). These products are a snap to set up and usually come with clear, concise instructions to get you up and surfing quickly. For the frequent road warrior, I recommend keeping one of these devices in your luggage and making the establishment of a wireless access point a standard part of your "prep the room" regimen.
Because you're essentially creating your own hotspot in the hotel, you can also share your Internet access with your traveling companions which means they can help defer the cost.
Locking down your network
Be sure to require a password for access to your own private hotspotyou don't want everyone in the hotel getting a free ride, soaking up your bandwidth, poking around your personal files, installing malicious software, or worse. You can control access using the configuration software that comes with your base station.
Considering that the very nature of wireless access means that anyone within range of an access point can see that network, it makes sense to take further precautions. Depending on the documentation that came with your particular base station, you will have the option to do any or all of the following:
Turn off SSID (Set Service Identifier) so that your base station and network will only appear to those that enter its name.
Enable password protection so that everyone can see the name of your network, but only those who have the password can access it.
Use WEP(Wired Equivalent Privacy) , a level of security that allows you, the administrator, to define a set of "keys" for each person that wants to access the network. Keys pass through an encryption algorithm before access is granted.
Set up pre-approved MAC(Media Access Control) addresses. Every network card (Ethernet or wireless) has a unique address assigned to it. This address acts like a thumbprint for that particular computer. As network administrator, you can restrict access to only those MAC addresses that you deem worthy. Once those machines are added to the list, they'll never have to use a password, because their MAC addresses serve as their authentication.
How much does portable wireless cost?
In the Wi-Fi world, there are currently two dominant .avors to choose from. 802.11b, at 11 Mbps, is the older and more established Wi-Fi standard, but the newer, stronger, faster kid on the block is 802.11g, which screams along at up to 54 Mbps.
D-Link's AirPlus G DWL-G730AP Wireless Pocket Router/AP ($99) is a portable device that creates an 802.11g (Wi-Fi) wireless network. (www.dlink.com/products/?pid=346)
Netgear's WGR101 Wireless Travel Router ($75-100) provides 802.11g wireless connectivity. (http://netgear.com/products/details/WGR101.php)
Apple Computer's Airport Express ($100) provides both 802.11g and 802.11b access. (www.apple.com/airportexpress)
For more prices, check out Froogle, Google's price comparison tool (www.froogle.com). Search for portable base station.
Advantages of portable wireless over Ethernet
Sometimes Wi-Fi is not just more convenient than wired accessit's actually better. Here are a few circumstances where wireless access prevails over wiredkeep these scenarios in mind the next time you're on a business trip:
You and your traveling companions would like to hold meetings in a hotel conference room or suite, but the room only offers one wired Internet connection jack. If you're using a portable wireless access point, you can share that single connection.
You're sharing a hotel room with your significant other or a colleague. Both of you desperately need to check email and your company's stock price. With a portable hotspot, you don't have to take turns, provided you each have wireless-enabled laptops.
The hotel room's Internet connection is located on its rather ill-conceived, ergonomically challenged desk, and you'd rather hop on the Internet and check email from the bed or another area in the room.
Each of these scenarios presents a plausible reason for adding a portable hotspot to your bag of tricks. You don't have to be wireless in your room, but it does make things easier. Apple's AirPort Express is small enough to slip into your bag and easy enough to set up that it makes a welcome addition to any wireless road warrior's arsenal.