BOOT CAMP 546 (14/10/08)
Mobile Broadband, part 2
recently as five years ago accessing the Internet on a laptop whilst away from
home or the office could be a fiendishly difficult and often impossible task,
especially outside the UK. Nowadays we take it pretty much for granted that any
fairly recent notebook or laptop PC will be able to tap into a fast Internet
connection almost anywhere in the world. Much of the time you can, but it’s not
the next couple of weeks in this short series on broadband without wires, and
frontiers, we’ll be looking at the nuts and bots of setting up a connection
using Wi-Fi and 3G mobile broadband ’dongles’, but first, you can save yourself
a lot of time and trouble if you make a few simple preparations, before you set
off on your journey.
begin some suggestions for the kit that you take with you. Don’t forget a mains
adaptor plug for the country you’ll be visiting. I prefer the ‘universal’ type
that works pretty well anywhere and you can get some really small and compact
ones these days; pack two, if you are taking a lot of other gadgets with you.
the idea is to get connected without cables I wouldn’t go anywhere without my
trusty 2 metre retractable Ethernet cable. You would be surprised how many
hotels boast about having Wi-Fi but fail to mention that it only works in the
lobby, or on the first two floors. Armed with your own Ethernet cable you’ll be
able to plug directly into your room’s LAN socket, it’s quite common as many
hotels installed networks in the nineties. It also comes in very handy in
hotels that charge rip-off rates for Wi-Fi or Internet connection. If you have
a friend or colleague with a more generous expense account you can use the
cable to hook up to their laptop and share their Internet connection...
USB cable – preferably a retractable type -- is essential. The one I use most
often has a standard ‘Type A’ plug on one end and a small ‘Mini Type B’ plug on
the other. These are used by a lot of gadgets, from mobile phones, 3G dongles
and personal stereos to PDAs and digital cameras. In addition to using the
cable for file and data transfer to and from the PC a lot of devices also use a
USB cable for charging their batteries. If you are lucky, or have chosen your
widgets wisely you might be able to get away with packing just one mains
adaptor, for your laptop.
can also get multi-way retractable USB cables fitted with Type A to Type B
sockets (Type B is the square one, used by printers and peripherals), and Type
A plug to socket extensions cables, and before you start wincing at the cost of
all of these cables, I buy mine – Philips branded mind you -- at my local
‘Pound’ shop. There’s also a plentiful supply on ebay, and they’re not
expensive. If you are more at home with a desktop PC and find laptop trackpads
hard going I recommend taking a ‘travel mouse’ with you. You can get some
really small ones (optical with scroll wheels) and yes, even ones with
retractable cables. Once again ebay is the place to shop and you’ll find some
really smart models for less than a fiver, and this includes express shipping
from Hong Kong.
last suggestion, at least as far as the hardware is concerned, and that’s a
Wi-Fi ‘finder’. It’s a small keyring sized gizmo that tells you if there are
any wireless networks in the vicinity and shows their relative signal strength.
They’re real time savers – no waiting for your PC to boot up – and with prices
starting at around £10 it won’t break the bank.
for software, you would be absolutely mad to venture out without a decent
anti-virus program and firewall on your laptop, and if it contains any private
or sensitive files encrypt them! See the recent series on freeware for some
excellent security applications.
you are going to be using a web-based email service like GMail or Hotmail (see
also this week’s Top Tip), you won’t be able to send normal ‘POP3’ type emails
from programs such as Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Outlook and so on. That’s
because you won’t be connected to your usual ISP’s SMTP mail server and any
attempt to send mail through another ISP will result in it being rejected. It
needn’t’ be a problem, though. If you are using a wireless hotspot in a hotel
or café simply check the provider’s Help page or ask whoever is in charge for
the correct SMTP address. If you intend to use a 3G dongle obtain the address
before you go and be aware that you may need to use a different SMTP address if
you are roaming outside the UK.
have to enter the SMTP address in your email program’s ‘Server’ setup menu. To
save time find out where it is before you set out. In Outlook Express and
Windows Mail, for example, you have to go to Tools > Accounts, select your
email account, click Properties and select the Servers tab. Before you change
the entry in the Outgoing mail (SMTP) box make a note of the existing entry, so
you can restore it when you get back home.
Next Week – Mobile Broadband, part 3 – Wi-Fi
name for any small electronic device that connects to a port (usually USB) on a
PC or laptop
Office Protocol 3, system used to receive emails sent to Internet servers
Transfer Protocol - system used to send email messages to Internet servers
Web-based email services
like GMail and Hotmail are ideal for travellers and you can also set some of
them to ‘fetch’ messages from POP3 email accounts, and forward them on to you.
The setup for the GMail ‘Fetcher’ can be found on the Accounts tab. Another
useful very facility for travellers is Web2Mail.com. It’s free and you can
access your POP3 email accounts from any browser with a web connection simply
by entering your email address and password.
Don't forget, there's a
full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at www.pctoptips.co.uk