Wireless Data Sharing Strategies
Avoid paying anything extra to hotels
and other service providers
The tiny (half the size
of a pack of cards) MiFi unit from Sprint and/or Verizon
provides a great way to share a wireless data signal.
This is part of a series on
how to share internet access. See related articles
listed on the right.
The data connectivity offered
by cell phone companies has been evolving. Whereas only
five years ago it was laughably slow and almost completely
unusable, current 3G and the new 4G type data services offer
internet as fast as traditional wired and Wi-Fi connections.
And so it becomes practical to
consider using such services not just on your cell phone, but on
other devices as well. You can use a provided MiFi type
device to create your own low powered Wi-Fi network to share
among your computers, phones, tablets, etc. Other ways of
achieving the same objective also exist.
Hitching a Ride on Your Cell
Phone or Wireless Device
Here's another approach to
getting the raw internet connection in the first place.
Maybe you can not only save yourself having to pay extra for
each additional device you connect to the internet in your hotel
room - maybe you can save yourself needing to pay for the
internet access in the first place.
You may be able to share the
wireless data service used by your cell phone. If not, you
may choose to purchase a freestanding wireless data receiver and
use that as a means to access the internet.
One thing to be aware of is
that none of the cell phone companies have as extensive a
coverage for their 3G data service as they do for their regular
voice and slower 2G and 2.5G data services.
And the newest 4G service is
currently only available in very limited parts of a very few
It pays to check the
coverage maps offered by your wireless provider before traveling
anywhere to see if it is likely that you'll be able to access
their fast data service on your travels.
Note also that even in areas
that theoretically should have good data service, you may find
you can't connect. We think that the metallic tinting used
by some hotels on their windows not only screens out the sun's
UV rays and heat but may also block a large portion of the radio
wave energy too.
So while these products may
work - in some places - in theory, you can't be sure they will
work satisfactorily in practice until you are actually in your
Generally you may find
better service if your room is higher up the building, and
sometimes rooms on one side of the building will be better than
the rooms on the other side (one side is more likely to be
facing the nearest cell tower whereas the other side will have
the entire hotel structure between your room and the tower).
You might also get better
signal if you move the wireless device close to the window.
Try moving it around the room to find the best location.
Do not use internationally
Be very careful before using
any of these devices outside of the US. Your data service
contract almost certainly doesn't apply outside the US (correct
- this means that Canada too is excluded).
Instead of your contracted
rate and included 'free' data, you might find yourself paying
huge sums for roaming service - commonly $1000 or more per GB.
Tethering Your Phone
The easiest and least
expensive way of accessing wireless data is to 'tether' your
cell phone and connect to the internet via your phone, using its
current data plan. In such a case, you'll not pay anything
extra at all.
Some (but not all) cell phones with 3G or
4G data service can be tethered and connected to your laptop,
acting just like a modem used to act. In the old days,
you'd use a modem to connect your laptop to the phone line and
through it to dial up internet access; in today's modern world,
you can sometimes use your cell phone as a modem to connect your
laptop to its 3G/4G wireless data and through that to the
Similar concepts apply as
used to apply to old fashioned modems. Enquire with your
wireless company if your phone is capable of being tethered.
You might need to buy a special cable to connect the phone to
Even if the wireless company
says the phone can't be tethered, it is possible that it can be.
Search for your phone make/model and the word 'tether' on Google
to see if there are third party ways of tethering your phone.
The Palm Pre Plus and Palm
Pixi Plus (with Verizon or Sprint service) can apparently create
its own Wi-Fi network without needing to go through a laptop.
The new HTC HD2 phone, with
T-mobile service, can also have a program added to it which will
make it create a Wi-Fi rebroadcast of its data service.
You'll have to search for this on Google, because T-Mobile
doesn't officially allow it.
If you can and do
successfully tether your phone, you probably could then use
Connectify to rebroadcast the cell phone's internet service to
other nearby devices over the computer's Wi-Fi card, thereby
allowing its data to be used not only by your laptop but also by
any other devices you brought with you. Note - see our
review of Connectify for some
possible issues with sharing 3G/4G wireless data service
iPhones can't be tethered
Note that iPhones - while in
theory are capable of being tethered - have this ability
disabled, presumably at the request of AT&T who don't want their
data network - already struggling to grow at the same rate their
iPhone subscriber numbers are growing - to be further
Part of the assumption in
data' wireless plans is that you won't actually use much of the
theoretically unlimited data, because, after all, just how much
data can a regular cell phone need? Not much is the normal
answer, but if you connect it up to a laptop, then the data
usage can inflate enormously, hence they frown on it.
Wireless to Wi-Fi Devices - 'MiFi'
Several wireless companies
offer tiny boxes, about the size of half a pack of cards, that will
receive their wireless data service and then convert it into a
small area Wi-Fi network, to which you can connect your computer
and other Wi-Fi equipped devices.
These are often known as a 'MiFi'
device, available from Verizon and Sprint (and are actually made
by Novatel). They don't cost a
great deal, but usually you also have to buy service on a two
year contract (about $60/month for about 5GB of monthly data).
The Wi-Fi signal they
broadcast is much weaker than from a regular Wi-Fi router, but
it is sufficient to fill a hotel room or a small part of a
larger open area. But it probably would not punch through
from one hotel room to the next, or if it does, it would be a
weak and unreliable signal.
Note there is also a MiFi
device being sold in Europe - it has the same name, it does the
same sort of thing, but it is a different product made by a
different company (Huawei). Your US MiFi device will not
work in Europe, and similarly, the European MiFi devices won't
work in the US.
USB Stick Wireless Devices
Most of the wireless
companies also offer wireless data modems in the form of a USB stick.
The stick receives 3G wireless data; you simply plug the USB
stick into a computer and it connects to the internet via the
Again, you can possibly retransmit the wireless data received from the USB
stick via Connectify to other devices you also have with you.
Similar pricing plans apply,
as do similar cost-justification exercises, to the MiFi type
Wireless Equipped Netbooks Too
Some netbooks can be
purchased with a built in wireless data receiver. These
provide the same sort of connectivity, built in, as you'd get
from an external wireless USB stick, simply built in.
And they too could
then have their service rebroadcast, via their Wi-Fi card, and
shared with other devices using the
Connectify software discussed here.
Justifying the Cost of a
Wireless Data Device
If you buy some sort of
wireless data device, you'll pay anything from about $50 to $200
for the device itself, and then you'll probably have to commit
to a two year contract for service on the device, which
typically seems to run about $60/month.
But $60 might be no more than you pay a hotel for just four days
of internet service - or, to put it another way, $720 a year is maybe the
same as 48 days in hotels per year. Do you generally spend
$60 a month on hotel internet service?
You're not only saving in
hotels, though. You're saving anywhere and everywhere else
in situations where you'd otherwise have to buy internet access.
For example, in an airport while waiting for a flight.
And you're also saving
yourself the cost you'd otherwise pay if you have an iPad and
want 3G service on that. Instead of spending $130 to add
3G data capability to your iPad and either $15 or $30/month for
service, why not spend the same amount or less to get a MiFi or
other device, and then with the $60/month data plan, you can use
it with your iPad plus also all your other internet connecting
Such a device also extends
the places where you can access the internet. You're not
now restricted only to places with an internet plug or Wi-fi
service. You can use it at the local park, or maybe when
camping (if 3G service is available) or if you're having a
business lunch at a local restaurant or anywhere else that the
3G signal reaches.
I'll stop before I start
sounding like an advertisement for MiFi!
For information about
why you need to share a
single internet connection, please return to the first part
of this series.
For information on a
free Windows 7 software solution that
conveniently allows you to share an internet connection,
please click forward to the next part of this series.
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9 April 2010, last update
02 Jul 2017
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.