Ask LH: How Can I Get Wi-Fi At A Location That Doesn’t Offer It?

Dear Lifehacker, I often find myself in places in a hotel room where there’s a wired ethernet connection, but no Wi-Fi. I don’t want to be tethered to one spot! How can I add Wi-Fi to one of these places cheaply? Thanks, Wire Free

Title photo by Closari.

Dear Wire Free,

While many places do have Wi-Fi these days, it sucks when you get to your hotel for a holiday or conference to find out that the room has wired ethernet and no wireless. It’s not difficult to fix, but you do need to exercise caution about how you do it, and some methods require more tech-savvy than others. Let’s examine a couple of options.

Use A Wireless Router In Bridge Mode

Buying a cheap wireless router, such as the Apple Airport Express or an old Linksys WRT54G, then setting it up as a wireless bridge is probably the fastest and easiest way to give any space with a wired connection an instant wireless network. Bridge mode means that instead of managing the traffic on your LAN, as most routers do, it simply shares your existing LAN — that is, the network in your hotel or boardroom — among a set of specific devices over the air. Photo by Ryoichi Tanaka.

When I travel, I always pack one of the old-style Airport Express models in my laptop bag. I can plug it into the wall, plug in an ethernet cable in my hotel room, and use my laptop anywhere in the room, or connect my Wi-Fi iPad to the network if I choose. The same applies for university dorm rooms, board rooms or other locations with only wired connections. You can optionally install the Tomato or DD-WRT replacement firmware on your router to add lots of useful features, including bandwidth throttling, added security tools, reporting and monitoring, and access controls.

A Word About Security

Make sure you set up your wireless network as securely as possible. Remember that WEP is extremely easy to crack and WPA is stronger, but not impossible to crack. A combination of WPA2, a good strong password for your network, and access controls for specific devices is the way to keep your fledgling network secure.

A little security through obscurity is a good idea too. If you’re using your network in a hotel that’s packed with convention attendees, hide your SSID and keep your network to yourself. The last thing you want to do is wind up inadvertently running an open network, and get into trouble when someone else does something illegal on it.

Turn Your PC Into A Wireless HotSpot

If you don’t have the budget for a wireless router, or left yours at home, you’re not out of options. You can always use Internet Connection Sharing on your Mac or Windows system to share your connection with other devices nearby. We’ve shown you how to do this in Windows and in OS X before, and the basic premise is simple: as long as your laptop is connected to a wired network, you can turn your PC into a hotspot for your tablet, phone, or other devices to connect to. It takes a little setup, but once you’re finished, you won’t even need the router. You have to make sure the PC that’s sharing its connection is on and online at all times.

Tether Your Phone

If you have a smartphone with a reasonable data allowance, tethering can be very useful. If your wi-fi needs are occasional or you want to use your laptop from bed and your cable doesn’t reach, it’s a good option. If you’re trying to connect too many devices, it’s not going to work too well, and it may fall over if your signal isn’t good. Photo by Danny Choo.

Buy an 3G/4G Hot Spot

For regular travellers, a Wi-Fi hotspot is the most obvious choice. Both Optus and Telstra now offer 4G options, so you can get impressive speeds. There are prepaid options on Telstra as well, which is handy for less regular travellers.

We hope at least one of these options works for your use case, Wire Free! Remember, be careful with whatever network you set up. With care and caution, you can add the Wi-Fi you need to almost any space. Good luck!


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