Question: I’m buying a new laptop computer and want to connect to the Internet on the road. Is it easy to set this up?
Answer: Yes – providing your laptop supports wireless connectivity.
That is, most laptops sold today include built-in "Wi-Fi’ technology — also referred to "802.11" or "wireless LAN" (local area network) — which means you can wireless log onto the Internet at broadband-like speeds so long as you’re in a "hotspot," such as in a café, airport lounge, hotel room, and so on. To find out if your location offers wireless connectivity, simply right-click the small Network icon in the lower right-hand corner of your Windows-based computer (near the clock), which looks like two small overlapping computer screens. Then, choose the option to "Connect to a Network" or "View Wireless Networks."
Not only will you be able to find out if you’re in a hotspot, but you can tell you if it’s "secure" or not, meaning you might need a password to gain access to the Internet and/or pay a small fee for the service. Once you choose one of the available networks, launch your favorite browser to see if you’re online.
While it’s tempting to go with the free services, watch out for phony Wi-Fi connections, which might be someone trying to steal your personal or financial information (if it’s the name of say, your hotel, it should be ok. When in doubt, ask the hotel, airport lounge or cybercafe for the name of their wireless network to look for). Of course, be sure to have a firewall and anti-virus program installed on your computer.
Some products, such as the keychain-sized Kensington Wi-Fi Finder Plus, let you sniff out if a wireless network is present before you even boot up your laptop.
If your laptop does not have integrated Wi-Fi connectivity, you can purchase a small PC Card (formerly "PCMCIA card") that snaps into the side of the computer, or a USB-based Wi-Fi key.
Some travelers who do not want to rely on finding an 802.11 hotspot are opting for a snap-in WAN (wide area network) PC Card that uses wireless cell phone technology to log onto the Internet. While not quite as fast as broadband – yet – some wireless network speeds aren’t too bad for Web browsing and reading email, including EVDO, EDGE and the latest buzzword, HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access). Check your cell carrier to see what’s offered. Alternatively, you may also be able to connect your cell phone, PDA (personal digital assistant) or BlackBerry to your laptop via its USB cable and use it as a tethered modem to log online.