How to Connect on the Road
One of the most wonderful things about Wi-Fi is its power to connect you to the Internet and your corporate network while you are out of your office or away from your network. Whether you are at a coffee shop, convention center, airport lounge or corporate briefing center, you can use Wi-Fi to check your e-mail, access sales information or other corporate files and databases, send and receive files or cruise the Internet. The growing number of Wi-Fi hotspots and corporate Wi-Fi networks now available to travelers makes searching for and hooking into a slow dial-up connection an unpleasant memory.
Of course, you need a Wi-Fi radio in your computing device. This can be a slide-in PC Card radio, or Compact Flash Card, or an embedded Wi-Fi module in your laptop computer or PDA. The trick to connecting when out of your office is to have your Wi-Fi radio recognize an available Wi-Fi network, make contact and then start talking to it.
How To Connect to a Wi-Fi Network
Depending on the hotspot location and network setup, connecting to a Wi-Fi network can be very easy and automatic, or it can be a manual process that requires you to change your network name, password and security code.
If you know a wireless network is operating where you are hooking in, first ask the appropriate person at that location if there are special instructions for signing on to the network.
If you are running Windows XP on your laptop, it should automatically scan and recognize the local Wi-Fi network and prompt you to log onto it. If you are using any other operating system, you may have to perform a manual scan to find an available network. Depending on your card and the card's manufacturer, you may need to run your Wi-Fi management utility to create a new network location. (Most Wi-Fi systems allow users to create and retain the network names, security settings and passwords for different network locations in their computer.) You simply select the correct network location and your computer will be able to connect. See your manufacturer's manual for specific instructions for your system.
Some locations may be serviced by a commercial wireless Internet service provider. These providers use an intelligent access point that enables you to easily log in regardless of your network settings or type of card. In this case you will connect to a special log-in screen where you identify yourself and sign on. If you are at a pay-for-access site, you will have to provide your membership information or use your credit card to pay on the spot. Other locations may provide free access once you have signed on.
The Facts About Hotspot and Remote Wireless Network Security
In many open networks such as convention centers, airports and other public areas, there is no security implemented at all. WPA and authorization are deliberately set to off to make it simpler to access the network. In a public hotspot you should turn off file sharing to prevent anyone in the vicinity accessing data on your computer. Once you are on the network, your wireless transmissions can be encrypted as they travel between the access point and your office via your VPN or through the Internet by SSL.
When you are working in a public hotspot, you cannot be confident of truly secure access. So unless you are just surfing the Internet for fun, you should use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if possible to create a secure virtual tunnel from your computer, through the access point to the Internet, and back to your office and corporate servers.
Using VPN is even more important when connecting via a freenet, where there is no security in place at all.