Free hotspots, tantalizingly near
Access to low or no-cost Internet in marinas, anchorages, and along the waterways poses some problems. Many marinas provide cable or dial-up telephone lines for a fee. Others may have local WiFi services with monthly fees. There are also annual service plans for mobile broadband computer connections to cell phone providers. Some lucky boaters may be tantalizingly close to a free hotspot whose signal spills over the waterfront but does not quite reach the boat. One option to accessing close-by free hotspots is to extend the reception/transmission range of the computerâs WiFi equipment. As shown in the accompanying photo, what is needed is a four-foot, 12db gain, 2.4 GHz antenna
in place of the inch-like antenna normally enclosed in a WiFi card or the laptopâs internal WiFi equipment. The longer antenna is connected to a PCMCIA WiFi card
with an external antenna connector. (If the laptop has internal WiFi equipment, it must be disabled in favor of the external plug-in card. This is accomplished by disabling the network adaptor in the device manager directory of the systemâs hardware directory.) If longer leads are needed for the connections, additional piglets are available with the N-type coaxial connectors.
It is very difficult to quantify the increase in range from the longer antenna. At my downtown marina location, I gained access to many more hotspot signals with this antenna rig. Fortunately, some of these signals have come from free hotspots along the waterfront. That makes me a very happy Internet camper.