Wi-Fi for Beginners

What you need to know if you’re traveling with a laptop and want to use Wi-Fi hotspots to connect to the Internet.

  1. Wi-Fi hotspots are a wonderful way to connect to the Internet while you’re traveling. They’re easy. They’re highspeed. And more and more Wi-Fi hotspots are available every day.
  2. Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t always operable. There are many variables involved in the wireless technology known as Wi-Fi . If any one of these variables has a problem, you won’t be able to use it successfully. If you absolutely must have Internet, then you’d better have a backup method to connect. Wi-Fi hotspots are meant for casual use, not business-critical use.
  3. The more you understand about how it works, the more successful you’ll be. This is primarily true because it is a 2-way radio system. Your equipment is just as important in Wi-Fi as the hotspot’s equipment.

What is a Wi-Fi hotspot?
Have you been to a coffee shop lately, or a bookstore, and seen people using laptops at their tables? Very likely, they are browsing the web on their computers. If you look very closely, you won’t see any cables coming from their computers except, maybe, the power cable. They’re getting the Internet connection wirelessly because the coffee shop, or bookstore is a Wi-Fi hotspot.

People are setting up Wi-Fi hotspots in their homes and offices so they can use their laptops in any room without having to worry about plugging in.

Public Wi-Fi hotspots are usually small, indoor areas which are pretty easily covered with the radio signal. The equipment needed to set up a small, coffee-shop style hotspot can cost as little as $50 and the antenna which transmits and receives the radio signal can be as small as 3 inches. There is very little distance to cover and very little interference in a coffee shop or bookstore. Distance and interference are the two biggest problems to overcome in a Wi-Fi hotspot. RV parks pose major obstacles in this regard. For a typical park of 100 sites, the equipment necessary can cost thousands of dollars and the antenna required will be 20 – 40 feet in the air. Depending on the layout of the park, it may require multiple antennas to successfully transmit and receive the signal. Even with all the best equipment installed, a big RV in between you and the hotspot’s antenna may interfere with your signal.

How can you find Wi-Fi hotspots?
Just Google for Wi-Fi hotspots. Or go to directories like JiWire.com. Most campground directories now include an indicator for Wi-Fi.  A good listing of all RV Parks with Wi-Fi is available on RV.net forums in the Campgrounds, Resorts and Attractions category.

What do you need to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot?
If you have a new laptop, it probably has Wi-Fi capability built in, you’re all set. Older computers, with built-in Wi-Fi weren’t so good, but most of the new ones are fine. (We especially like the Sony VAIO) If your computer does not have Wi-Fi capability built-in (or it’s old and doesn’t work so well), then you need to buy a ‘Wireless Network Adapter’, also known as 802.11 adapter. They are available at any computer or electronics store, prices range from $30 – $100. The only problem is that there are dozens of adapters to choose from. We highly recommend the ‘USB’ type of adapters. To read more about adapter choices, click here.

How do you connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot?
If you are within range of the Wi-Fi signal, all you have to do is turn your computer on – and make sure your wireless adapter is on as well. Some laptops have a separate switch to turn the wireless adapter on and off. Your computer should automatically scan it’s surroundings and pop up a little window telling you that it has detected one or more wireless networks. If it finds one, and only one, it may automatically connect to it. If it finds more than one, you see a message ‘Click here to view available wireless networks’. When you click there, you will see a window that looks something like that below. Note: if you see that a wireless network is ‘Security-enabled’, you won’t be able to connect to that one.

You should know the name of the network for the hotspot you’re in. For example, in a Coach Connect park, the network name (aka ‘ssid’) will be coach. If it connects to it automatically, you’re all set. If not, you’ll need to click on the one you want, and click ‘Connect’.

How do you browse the web?
Once you are connected to the appropriate wireless signal, you can open your Internet Explorer (or whatever browser you use) and start browsing to whatever websites you wish. If you are in a hotspot that requires you to pay for it, you will be redirected automatically to a web page, the login page, where you put in your username and password. If you don’t have a username and password for this particular hotspot, you will click on a button to ‘Sign Up’. That’s where you put in your credit card information and establish an account.

If you aren’t able to browse the web now, then something is wrong. That ‘something’ can be *so* many things! Here is an article about all the things you can troubleshoot if it’s not working.

Summary
If everything is working, you can browse the web at a Wi-Fi hotspot by simply turning your computer on, waiting until you see the ‘Connected to xxxx’, then opening a browser and start browsing, or checking your email! You don’t have to plug into anything, you don’t have to dial up to anywhere. And, once you’re on, your Internet connection will stay on as long as your computer is on!

Go forth and compute!

One Response to Wi-Fi for Beginners

  1. Stan.Swan says:

    Glad you folks favour USB WiFi adaptors!
    The very nature of 2.4GHz signals means
    that moving ones PC/laptop even a few feet
    may give ” all or nothing” with WiFi. Argh!
    But cheap USB adaptors & even cheaper cables
    (loss free too) mean an easy solution, especially
    if a cookware parabolic antenna is also used!

    Highly recommend that you promote the DIY “boutique”
    version for your RVers, as this can be easily
    positioned to suit, both indoors of on the RV roof.
    See => http://www.usbwifi.orcon.net.nz/btique.jpg
    http://www.usbwifi.orcon.net.nz itself gets ~1000 hits daily!

    Stan-in sunny New Zealand

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