A flaky Wi-Fi connection that continuously drops out can be incredibly frustrating when you’re working on the go, and the same is true at home. We’ve come to rely on the web for serving up entertainment as well as getting work done.
The solution could be found in a device you already own, however. If you’ve got a 3G-enabled smartphone, you can get online via a process known as internet tethering (click here for our guide to internet tethering).
Apple added tethering with iOS 4.0, while Android users running 2.2 Froyo and above have this capability built in. For 2.1 Eclair and earlier, you’ll need to download PDANet or Easy Tether from the Android Market. Note, however, that these apps work only with rooted handsets – something not easily tackled by novices.
Be sure to check your mobile operator’s terms and conditions and keep an eye on your data usage, since you could find yourself hitting the mobile device’s data cap a lot sooner than expected. This will result in an extra charge on your monthly bill.
Tethering can be fiddly, however, and it provides web access to only one computer. If you need to get online on more than one machine, a better option is to use a 3G (or mobile) hotspot.
Huawei makes such hardware for several mobile operators; Three’s MiFi is perhaps the best-known version, allowing up to five PCs to share a single mobile broadband connection. Meanwhile, Solwise has recently launched a device that supports up to 20 PCs.
In the following workshop, we’ve used the £100 Zoom We3G Hotspot and Modem to share a 3G connection with a laptop. This device also accepts MicroSD cards and can be used for mass storage.
Speed-testing your mobile connection can help you decide whether it’s worth using in preference to Wi-Fi. Speedtest.net has developed a mobile app for Apple iOS and Google Android that lets you measure how fast your connection really is.
Step 1. Ensure your hotspot modem is charged up. Most 3G hotspots are supplied with a mains or USB charger, and a fully charged battery will last for around 4 hours. Next, remove the rear panel and battery, then insert the SIM card from your mobile phone. Insert the battery and re-attach the rear panel.
Step 2. Turn on the device by pressing and holding the power button on its side. All four LEDs on the front will light up for 30 seconds, after which the network, wireless and signal-strength indicators will glow only when active. Red LEDs indicate no signal, while blue blinking lights confirm the device is in working mode.