BOOT CAMP 547 (21/10/08)
Mobile Broadband, part 3
looking at broadband without wires and in this episode we’re focusing on Wi-Fi.
Next week we turn our attention to 3G systems that use mobile phone networks, so
without more ado let’s have a go at untangling the technology.
is a short-range – typically 10–50 metres – high-speed data communications
system operating on the 2.4GHz frequency band. The first Wi-Fi devices appeared
around 10 years ago but it didn’t really take off until 2002/3 and by 2007
almost all new notebook and laptop PCs had Wi-FI adaptors fitted as standard.
are many different flavours of Wi-Fi but the most widespread systems are
designated 802.11b and 802.11g and devices are largely compatible with one
another. A new faster system called 802.11n is being rolled out but isn’t
expected to be very widely used for another year or so and an older system,
known as 802.11a, is now obsolete, so keep an eye on the letters if you are
buying very new or older second-hand equipment. There are some minor
differences in 802.11b/g channel allocations between Europe the US and Japan,
and sometimes devices can get a bit confused though in practice it shouldn’t
cause too many problems.
now is that there are several million – no one really knows how many – public
Wi-Fi access points around the world. I would say that roughly a third to a
half of them are free to use, or free if you are a patron of the establishment
where the hotspot is located, such as a hotel or café. Otherwise you’ll have to
pay to connect, by a monthly or annual subscription or make a one-off payment
with your credit card.
can save yourself a lot of effort and expense if you know the location of free
hotspots before you travel. Websites like free-hotspot.com and wififreespot.com cover most major towns
and cities and are a good place to start.
has the potential to be a major issue but all Wi-Fi adaptors. All routers and
access points have WEP or WPA encryption facilities built in and this is strong
enough to keep out all but the most determined and well-resourced intruders.
However, a lot of free and commercial networks have their own encryption or
security features, which work for them, but may leave your PC vulnerable whilst
connected, so make sure that you have effective anti-virus and firewall
programs installed on your PC. See also this week’s Top Tip.
on to a Wi-Fi access point or hotspot is usually quite straightforward and
normally no more difficult than connecting to your home wireless router. XP and
Visa laptops have a wireless connection icon in the System tray (next to the
clock). The standard icon looks the same as the twin monitor icon used for
wired (Ethernet) connections, though a lot of machines have their own
proprietary wireless management utilities, so consult the manual if in doubt
and make sure you know how to use it before you set out on your travels.
usual procedure is to right-click on the connection icon and select the ‘View
available wireless networks’ or ‘Connect to a network’ option. This opens a
dialogue box showing all of the wireless networks in the vicinity, along with
their SSID or network name, whether or not they are security enabled and a
simple, bargraph showing relative signal strength. To connect to a network
double click on the name and if encryption is enabled, you will be asked to
enter the key given to you by the hotspot operator.
if the access point is shown as ‘open’ click on the icon and after a few
seconds Windows says you are connected. Open a browser window you will see one
of two things. If the hotspot is completely free your usual browser’s home page
will be displayed and you can surf the web and pick up your emails as normal.
If it’s a monitored, subscription or paid-for service you will see a sign-on
page, where you agree to the conditions of use, enter your subscriber code or
tap in your credit card details.
more or less it and you should now be able to use your laptop as normal. If you
cannot get a connection here’s a few things to try. Check the signal strength,
if you are only getting one or two bars, or the indicator jumps up and down you
are too far away from the router or access point. If signal strength is good
and steady then try temporarily disabling your firewall or any security
features built into your anti-virus program, however, and this is vitally
important, do not forget to switch them back on again as soon as you have
established a connection. In theory it shouldn’t matter if someone nearby is
also using a wi-fi laptop or wireless device, but it can sometimes have an
effect, so move away. Finally, don’t waste time letting Windows try to fix a
failed connection. It rarely works, it’s usually much quicker, and often more
successful to simply reboot and start again.
Next Week – Mobile Broadband, part 3
Office Protocol 3, system used to receive emails sent to Internet servers
Transfer Protocol - system used to send email messages to Internet servers
Equivalent Privacy & Wi-Fi
Protected Access. Encryption systems used to secure
data on wireless networks, theoretically providing the same level of security
as a cabled network connection
Watch out for so-called
‘Evil Twin’ hotspots, which mimic the appearance of legitimate access points.
Once connected to the bogus network it is possible for someone to steal
information from your PC that could be used for identity theft. There’s no easy
way to identify an Evil Twin Phishing access point, but in cafes and
restaurants keep an eye out for shady-looking characters with a laptop sporting
unusual looking aerials sitting nearby or in a parked car. A good two-way
firewall will alert you to any attempts to gain access to your machine.
Don't forget, there's a
full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at www.pctoptips.co.uk
© R. Maybury 2008, 1009