On those rare occasions when the sun comes out in Britain, it's a wonderful feeling to be able to unhook your laptop from the mains and stroll with it into the garden. There's only one problem: a reliable web connection may not be assured.
Smartphones and netbooks coupled with Wi-Fi networks have made remote working easier, but their small keyboards and screens aren't always practical for prolonged use. Fortunately, it's possible to extend your home Wi-Fi to reach the garden, and a few adjustments may also improve the signal inside your house.
And if you prefer to take your laptop further afield - to a local pub's beer garden, perhaps - you can use your mobile phone as a modem. You'll need a mobile signal to do so, of course, and there are still places in the UK where this won't be possible.
If your internet access is dependent on a flaky connection, try out Google Labs' Gmail Offline. While offline, you can search through your messages and write emails, which are stored in your outbox and sent when you next connect to the web. Now all you need to do is decide where to spend those precious hours basking in the sun.
Optimise your Wi-Fi signal
While you can't conjure up wireless internet connectivity from nothing, you can almost certainly tweak your existing home Wi-Fi network to work over a broader area. As with many things, location is key.
Wireless signals are broadcast omni-directionally. To ensure all areas of your home are covered, the router should be positioned as close to the centre of your house as possible, rather than in a corner. It shouldn't be hidden away in a basement, either, and raising it high on a shelf on the ground floor or lower down on an upper floor can considerably improve its range.
Note that the further away from an access point you are, the less bandwidth you'll get. If you're repositioning your router specifically for outdoor use, place it close to where you plan to sit. The signal can travel more easily through panes of glass than it can through thick brick walls.
Wireless signals travel more easily through glass windows than thick walls
Flicking channels: The channel your router uses is important, too. If your neighbour also uses a Wi-Fi router, and it's positioned near yours and overlaps with your channel, you'll experience reduced bandwidth. You can check for interference - and other network problems - using inSSIDer.
It's worth asking your neighbour which channel they use, and avoiding that one. But it's a fair assumption that you'll get better performance if you change from the preset channel. Many routers use channel 6 as their default. You can change your router's access channel via its web interface. Look for the option on its settings page.
Experiment with channels to avoid losing bandwidth to a neighbour
You could also try changing the router's antenna. The majority of models come with a 2dB screw-in antenna; you can simply swap in a stronger 7dB antenna. This will treble the power of the router and increase the range by as much as 75 percent.
It's also worthy of note that although the typical Wi-Fi antenna is omni-directional, the router offers better coverage in the horizontal plane. In single-storey buildings, position the antenna at right angles to the router for best results. In multistorey buildings, you should place the antenna diagonally or parallel to the floor.
Also bear in mind that radio interference can affect Wi-Fi signals, so remove anything that uses radio waves, including baby monitors, from within 2ft of your router.
Firmware checks: Regularly check your router maker's website for firmware and driver updates. Manufacturers regularly make improvements to their router and adaptor firmware that can boost performance and reliability.
If you have an 802.11g/b router, consider upgrading to a model that also offers wireless draft-n connectivity. Although the 802.11n standard is yet to be ratified, draft-n Wi-Fi offers better range and faster data-transfer speeds than 802.11b/g.
Also consider a wireless router that specifies multiple-input, multiple-output (Mimo) technology. This uses a ‘smart' antenna to fine-tune Wi-Fi reception.
Note that using Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption will slightly decrease bandwidth. Simply turning off WPA encryption is dangerous, however, as it will also leave your network insecure. One option is to select the trusted wireless stations option on your router's web interface. This feature grants network access only to PCs specified by you, which are identified by their network card's media access control (MAC) address.
ADSL tips: If you have ADSL broadband, it's worth investigating a BT I-Plate (£10 inc VAT, bt.com/shop). This replaces the ADSL filters around your home with one at the entry point of the phone line. It also means you no longer need to worry about interference from electrical equipment, such as microwave ovens, TV power supplies and even Christmas tree lights. BT says fitting this filter can increase speeds by 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps).
If all these tips fail, a very long extension cable running from your home and out into the back garden could be the answer. And this solution will give you the perfect excuse for not mowing the lawn, too.
Choose a better router: Upgrading to a draft-n router will give you a faster, more secure and more reliable connection that won't interfere with your neighbours' Wi-Fi.
Products conforming to the final 802.11n standard won't appear until next year. But the firms that set this standard also make the hardware, so draft-n routers are pretty much guaranteed to work with 802.11n - although they may need a firmware upgrade.
A dual-band router divides traffic across the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrums, helping your network to handle more data simultaneously and to process it faster. Some routers will even let you divide traffic over two different network names, so you can put slower or lower-security 802.11b devices on their own loop.
A model that has the speedier gigabit ethernet standard rather than 100Base-T will ensure wired traffic is also fast.
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Use your mobile phone as a modem
In recent years, accessing the web and managing your email on the go has become infinitely easier. A great number of hotels, airports and cafés now offer Wi-Fi hotspots, and some even do so for free. But from time to time you'll still find yourself without a connection, and this is when your mobile phone's 3G connectivity can come in useful.
A phone's tiny screen and general lack of web luxuries (such as tabbed browsing) don't make for the best mobile web experience, of course. Instead of browsing on the phone, try using your mobile phone as a modem: connect it to your laptop by either USB, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and browse the web in 3G comfort.
A number of apps are available, but you'll need to check the T&Cs of your mobile contract before using them. Here, we'll look at a popular iPhone app, as well as apps designed for Windows Mobile and Nokia handsets.
iPhone: It's possible to turn your iPhone into a modem by installing Addition's iPhoneModem2, which costs $9.99 (around £6.07). Apple has deemed the program to be in conflict with its App Store's terms and conditions, however, and iPhoneModem is now available only for ‘jailbroken' phones.
Fortunately, the brand-new iPhone 3G S is equipped with an internet-tethering feature. This allows you to transform the handset into a 3G mobile broadband dongle. You can also use it to connect your laptop to any of The Cloud's 5,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. The feature works using USB or Bluetooth, and on both Mac OS X and Windows machines.
If you own an iPhone 3G and have no plans to upgrade, the new functionality can be added through Apple's iPhone software 3.0. This can be installed for free on any iPhone 3G handset.
iPhone 3G users will need to purchase the iPhone Tethering Bolt On, however, which is available from O2 for £14 (3GB) or £29 (10GB) per month.
Windows Mobile: PdaNet is free for 14 days and allows you to tether your Windows Mobile phone to your laptop. Its developer, June Fabrics, also offers versions for the iPhone and BlackBerry and Palm handsets.
You first need to ensure ActiveSync is installed on your PC. This will be preinstalled on your Windows Mobile handset, with PC software on the accompanying CD. Now connect your Windows Mobile device to your PC using a suitable USB cable and click the download link to install PdaNet on your laptop.
The PdaNet icon will be displayed in the system tray. Right-click the icon and press Connect to create a connection and surf the web. Our trial with an Orange HTC Touch 3G gave us a connection speed of 2.4 megabits per second (Mbps).
Nokia: JoikuSpot offers the same benefits to Nokia owners as PdaNet, but requires a wireless rather than USB connection between the phone and laptop.
Visit the JoikuSpot website and select your model of mobile phone. Enter your phone number (remember to use an area code; in the UK +44 replaces the first 0). You will then be sent a text message, which includes the download link for JoikuSpot.
Download the software using your mobile phone's web connection, then locate and launch the application.
Upon launching JoikuSpot you'll be prompted to upgrade to its Premium software. You can try this for free for two days, after which you'll have to pay £17 for a licence to continue using the software.
Turn off your phone and switch it back on again. Open the JoikuSpot Premium app. The software will now ask which connection you want to use to access the web. Select your access point - in our case this was Orange Internet - then click Connect. On your laptop or PC, refresh the list of wireless connections to see JoikuSpot is listed. Simply connect to the network to start surfing the web using your phone's 3G connection.