I really hate when I check into a hotel only to discover that the advertised Internet access is wired. The location of the Ethernet jack and the length of the (sometimes provided) cable are both almost always inadequate. To make matters worse, many of the devices I travel with these days are wireless only (e.g. iPhone, iPad, etc.). Fortunately, I’ve discovered two options to work around this problem:
1. Make your own wireless network
To make your own wireless network, all you need is a standard wireless router (nothing fancy here) which you can plug into the provided wired connection. In fact, I am right now posting this through a personal wireless network off of my wired hotel Internet connection using a Cisco-Linksys E2000 Advanced Wireless-N Router and it is working like a champ. This is also a great solution if you have multiple wireless devices, are sharing the room with another person or have a group of people in the room all of whom would like Internet access.
The only real major caveat to this approach is that you have to bring the router with you (and don’t forget the power cable) which can be a pain. As an aside, you might want to preconfigure the router at home so that you can make sure it works and you know how to connect all of your devices to it. Furthermore, choose a wireless access password that you will remember (I was bit by this today unfortunately) or get yourself a label maker and put the password right on the device so you’ll never forget it. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating using password labels like this more broadly, but it is a simple fix for this specific case where other people won’t have physical access to the router.
2. Bring the Internet with you
An alternative option to converting the hotel’s wired network into a personal wireless one is to simply bring your own wireless Internet access with you. This can be accomplished using a variety of different mobile hotspots like MiFi devices from either Verizon or Virgin Mobile. The great thing about these is that they just work. You simply turn the device on and you’re pretty much good to go to connect to the newly created hotspot. In addition to being simple to use, you have the benefit of not being throttled by the slow connection provided by the hotel. The downside to this option is that you have to pay for it and you likely have a bandwidth cap depending on your plan.
A similar option is to share your phone’s Internet connection through tethering. This is something offered by a variety of different phones now but again it isn’t free and your total bandwidth will be limited by your mobile phone’s data plan. AT&T just started offering this for the iPhone in the US within the past year, but unfortunately you cannot add tethering to your plan if you have the unlimited data plan which means that I probably won’t be adding that anytime soon.
I think that both options have merit and value independent of each other. The main advantage to the first option is that the cost is minimal and you can use this solution anywhere that you have wired Internet access unlike the second option which is reliant on cellular coverage and may not work outside of your home country. It really comes down to how often you have wired access available and whether you are going to be traveling abroad with any frequency.