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Six ways to cope with flaky hotel Wi-Fi

If a troublesome network is keeping you from getting your work done, consider these other options.

During a recent trip I stayed at a hotel offering free Wi-Fi--always a nice perk. Just one problem: the network was terrible. The connection speed reminded me of my old dial-up modem, but without the consistency.

Needless to say, it was impossible for me to get my work done, and that was a problem. Fortunately, I'm a Boy Scout when it comes to tech obstacles: always prepared. When faced with flaky hotel Wi-Fi, I try one or more of these six fixes:

1. Ask the front desk to reset the router  If you can't get or stay connected, it might just be a router issue. Call the front desk, tell them you can't get on their network, and ask them to reset the hotel router. Wait 5-10 minutes and then try again to connect.

2. Check for an Ethernet option  Some hotel rooms have an Ethernet port or cord that would allow your laptop to bypass Wi-Fi altogether and just jack into the network. If you need to share that connection with, say, your tablet, try Connectify Hotspot, which acts as a software router on your laptop. Alternately, pack a travel router like the TP-LINK TL-WR702N.

3. Try the lobby  It's possible the bad connection is simply the result of your room's distance from the nearest Wi-Fi repeater. Try moving to a conference room or the lobby to see if the situation improves.

4. Pack a pay-as-you-go hotspot  A mobile hotspot gives you Internet access anytime, anywhere. But if you buy one from one of the big carriers, you might get stuck with yet another two-year contract and hefty monthly fees. For occasional and/or "emergency" service, consider a pay-as-you-go hotspot.

For example, DataJack, TruConnect, and Virgin Mobile offer no-contract MiFi hotspots for under $100, with pay-as-you-go data plans that won't break the bank. Or you can grab a Photon hotspot from FreedomPop, which includes 500MB of free, no-strings-attached data per month (assuming there's coverage in your area--here in metro Detroit, there's not).

5. Use your phone's hotspot feature  Most Android phones and all the latest iPhones have a mobile-hotspot (a.k.a. tethering) feature, which can come in mighty handy in a pinch. On my iPhone, for example, it's a simple matter of venturing into the settings and enabling Personal Hotspot, which shares my 4G connection with nearby devices.

Check with your carrier to see what options are available on your phone, and how much they might add to your monthly bill. Just remember that you'll not only drain your battery in a hurry, you'll also face potentially steep data charges compared with what you usually incur.

6. Find the nearest Starbucks  If all else fails, try a little wardriving: Use your favorite Wi-Fi-finder app to locate the nearest coffee shop, library, or even another hotel that offers wireless Internet, then set up shop to get your work done. While you're at it, check out VPN tools that will help secure your data.

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