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10 ways to get a network connection when there's no network handy

Being stuck without a network connection isn't just an inconvenience; in some cases, it could compromise your job. Here are a few fallback options that may save the day.

Let's face it. There will come a time when you need a network connection and you can't find one. And you know it's going to happen at the worst possible time. What will you do when that network connection is critical, but there's no usable connection in sight? Well, I have a few options for you. Not all of them are free, but they're all possibilities in one situation or another.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Tether with PdaNet

PdaNet is an application that is required to be on both phone and PC. It's simple to use and has a free version, to boot. The only drawback is that the free version will block secure Web sites. You can still browse, but any site that is secure will be locked out. This software supports Android phones, Palm/Treo phones, Blackberry devices, Windows Mobile devices, and iPhones.

2: Tether with Easy Tether

EasyTether is the Android-only version of PdaNet. This solution works only with Windows 7/Vista/XP. Like PdaNet, the free version will block secure Web sites. One nice EasyTether feature is that you can use it to tether your Xbox, Wii, or PS3 to your PC using Windows ICS.

3: Tether with Verizon Wireless Access Manager

Verizon Wireless Access Manager is the official Verizon Wireless tool to help tether your phone to your PC. This tool supports Windows and Mac and will soon support Linux. It's simple to use and closely monitors your usage so you don't rack up a HUGE overage bill on your data plan. Probably much smarter (if you are using a Verizon phone) than using either PdaNet or EasyTether.

4: Get a phone that works as an access point

There are a few phones available that will serve as a wireless access point. Verizon has the Palm Pre Plus and Sprint will soon offer the EVO. This is probably a better option for those who know they will be sending and receiving more data than the limited 5 GB.

5: Use a portable wireless access point

Instead of wasting precious phone time, you can purchase one of the many (mini) wireless access points. They are a dime a dozen these days. I have personally worked with the Verizon MiFi (which I really liked), and Sprint has its own MiFi. What I really like about these devices is their simplicity and ease of sharing a wireless connection with more than one user.

6: Use an aircard

The aircard is becoming a bit of a dinosaur these days. Why? No one wants a USB dongle hanging from their laptop now. It seems so... '90s. But if that's your only option, go for it. Aircards work as well as MiFi, but you won't be sharing the connection out and they aren't nearly as easy to set up. So if you prefer the old school look of something hanging out of the side of your laptop, and you don't want to share your connection with anyone, this is your best bet.

7: Use your 3/4G phone

Today's smart phone is fast. Very fast. I have been playing around with the Verizon Incredible and I am amazed at the speeds of the connections and of the devices themselves. The only drawback is the size. I personally HATE typing on those tiny screens. But when push comes to shove, and you need to Google which ports QuickBooks Point of Sale needs to see through, your phone might wind up being your lifesaver.

8: Use your iPad

The iPad is all the rage now. And if you can afford one with a 3G plan, you have your own little network connection right in your lap. You can browse (so long as you don't need Flash) and even use a VPN or LogMeIn to do remote administration. Tablet PCs just might catch on. And if they do, let's hope they ALL have 3/4/5/6G connections built in.

9: Hop from coffee shop to coffee shop

Sometimes, that laptop is the only way to go. You can't do too much typing on a phone, you can't really send much data through your tethered modem, and your iPad doesn't have Flash. So when you need a good ol' fashion network connection, there is nothing wrong with sitting down to a nice cup of java and your laptop to get that emergency admin task out of the way.

Incidentally, if your coffee shop of choice happens to be Starbucks, remember that its wireless is not free. You must have a current Starbucks card to subscribe.

10: Cache off line

No matter how many tricks you have up your sleeve, sometimes a connection just isn't available. In those situations, you need caching applications that can sync when a connection becomes available -- tools like Dropbox and the Read It Later extension for Firefox. It's not ideal. But in a pinch, tools like these will get you through.

Other options?

So there you have it: 10 ways to get your network on. There's almost always a way to get a connection when you need one. Have you ever come across this issue? If so, how did you make do?

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

26 comments
bobp
bobp

Starbucks WiFi is now free - at least in California. Don't know about other areas.

Zenith545
Zenith545

Obviously all these networks are "handy" since everything but #10, which doesn't really apply to the topic, are available.

RayG314
RayG314

Free WiFi is available at many Panera Bread locations, and more and more McDonalds.

sean
sean

Those are all pretty good options, what happens when you are in an area that has no cell phone signal at all and the satellite connection goes down :(. And you can gather from that that there are no coffee shops in the area :) Have a great day!!

03zas49
03zas49

Basically a worthless article.

OdeonIT
OdeonIT

In the spirit of #9, here's a list of "free" WiFi hot spot locators. None of the sites mention whether or not a password is required from the company listed in order to access the free hot spot, so traveler beware. http://www.wififreespot.com/ http://v4.jiwire.com/search-hotspot-locations.htm http://www.openwifispots.com/ http://wifinder.com/ http://www.wi-fi.org/ http://www.hotspothaven.com/ I tried a quick search on each site and found lots of overlapping results, but a number of unique results too, so keeping all of these sites on-hand is advised. The last site, HotSpot Haven, appears to have the least information about the individual hot spots in my location and had no matches when I searched for "Free" spots even though the "All" search found many of the same spots that the other sites had listed as being free, but it may be more accurate for other regions.

Data Ninja
Data Ninja

The title of this would be more accurately stated as: "10 ways to get a Internet connection when there's no network handy" A "network" connection would indicate both LAN, WAN or VPN, whereas your article is more specifically targeted towards accessing the internet, not network files or services.

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

Lots of public libraries now offer free WiFi. Another form of wardriving (I like Neon Samurai's neologism "WiJacking) is to park in the lot of a motel or hotel that offers free WiFi. Not exactly ethical, but exigencies occur.

paul.burden
paul.burden

"10 ways to get an Internet connection when there's no network handy" Fixed. Anyway, don't all phones come with tethering these days? I know that my Android HTC Hero already allows USB tethering & because I've rooted it I can set it up as a wireless APN also so why would I install PDaNet or Easy Tether? My old Samsung Omnia and Nokia N95 also allowed USB tethering natively, am I missing something?

Sanne Buurma
Sanne Buurma

Android also supports mobile network sharing when you connect the android phone by USB. The other option indeed is Tethering, but you need a rooted android for that. Bluetooth PAN Server works quite well between phone and laptop, that is when your laptop has Bluetooth. Of course all is dependent on the good connection your mobile phone has... but sometimes GPRS is just enough to find what you're looking for ;)

jekisilman
jekisilman

..."Aircards work as well as MiFi, but you won?t be sharing the connection out."... on windows you can enable tcp forwarding and share the connection as ad-hoc wifi and on linux you can enable routing

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The smc/linksys/dlink global network. Available at all participating neighborhoods near you. (Someone had to say it) But, getting a connection legally.. I do like the "free wifi" groups that have been popping up. I've stumbled across a few good hostspot listings for my local area. One was a specific group while the other was a list of unrelated places that had free internet.

gechurch
gechurch

Yeah, at least call it what it is. I read the article thinking I might learn something. If it was correctly titled "2 ways to get a network connection" (that is, use 3G or find free wifi [I don't count offline files - that is not a network connection]) then I wouldn't have wasted my time reading it.

OdeonIT
OdeonIT

Not to mention the fact that if there is *no* network handy, then technically there is no wifi or wireless coverage either since those are just different types of networks. When I read the title, before clicking through, I was expecting an article along the lines of offline access methods of obtaining data, but since there's not much use in an article like that (remember when there *was no* real Internet connectivity without an available phone line?), I'm glad it is what it is instead. :) On a side note, Verizon customers that subscribe to the "unlimited" data plan (which is required for smart phone users on their network), PdaNet allows you to tether without any extra fees. Use of Verizon's VZAccess software requires you to pay an additional fee to tether your phone, in my case an extra $29.99 per month to "top off" the $59.99 maximum data charges allowed. I don't know if that limit is due to state or federal laws, but my guess is that it's a California law and I'm glad it's in place. However, if I'm already paying for "unlimited" data (which is actually capped at 5GB per month), why should I have to pay more just to plug it into my laptop?

Heath_H
Heath_H

Most hotel/motel's that I've been to that offer free internet, still secure it.

jruby
jruby

Our corporate bean counters. who never have to compute on the road, made the decision that tethering wouldn't be allowed on our AT&T Blackberries. Since I travel about 50% of the time, this wasn't realistic for me, so I went out to Tether.com and installed Tether for Blackberry - a one time charge for unlimited use. This isn't really an endorsement for the product since it has some rough edges, but it gets me connected whenever the sparse AT&T 3G network is available. Jim /* If you think the problem is bad now, wait until I fix it! */

deathjester
deathjester

My 9 year old daughter frequently takes her linux netbook for a "war walk" (she's nine, so she can't war drive). You would be gob smacked how many unsecured wireless connections exist in our local area.

Paymeister
Paymeister

They might even rent to you by the hour. "No, honest, it's just for the internet access!"

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

My Moto C139 TracFone doesn't even have WiFi. I'm thinking of getting an old, unlocked, BB and see if it will run my TracFone SIM. :)

santeewelding
santeewelding

Do you appreciate what you are doing? Probably not -- not with a name like [b]deathjester[/b]. She nine, you appear effectively the same age. Do you instruct her in the use of firearms to jest death? Oh. That's right. You can't, where you are. Also probably why you raise her to exploit unlocked back doors, urbanely emasculated as you make yourself out to be. I am gob[u]-[/u]smacked [u]at[/u] what [u]you[/u] do.

Jaqui
Jaqui

I use Waves for coffee shop internet access. and they don't lock it down at all. Their free internet is free, no strings attached. [ their coffee is better than starbucks anyway, it's not burnt ] and spending $2.30 for the largest coffee they have is cheap enough to have the internet access.

etruss
etruss

So ... I don't have a phone or any other hardware that would let me use any of these options. That leaves me with non-Starbucks internet coffee houses and motels for free access?

santeewelding
santeewelding

Shows what your tidy little moral code will get you. Shows, too, the hazards of guessing about me.

deathjester
deathjester

In order to protect our networks, we need to know how to defend them. As part of my degree we were taught how to think like a hacker so that we knew what to defend against. Demonstrating to a child the vulnerabilities of an unsecured wireless network will make her more aware of her own security and privacy. If she can make a career as a network administrator in years to come, then all well and good. If she is aware of how to protect her electronic identity from perverts on the internet - even better. As for your soapbox tirade on my moral ethics, you have absolutely no idea about me. Of course no parent would encourage their child to break into houses. Grow up you sad little child of America. Your two pronged comment about firearms... No I would not train my daughter in the operation of a firearm, and oh yes I can where I am. I took a bullet in Somalia standing up for my moral code and what I believe in. Would you do the same? I would hazard a guess that the only fire you have ever come under would be responses to your techrepublic posts, and perhaps some late night counterstrike sessions. It would seem that you are the urbanely emasculated one, sitting there in front of your PC in your frustratingly boring and underpaid little job taking pot shots at your fellow techrepupblic members. It must boost your ego,provide you with such a sense of power and self worth to verbally assault and nit-pick ath members of this forum. I bet you also suffer from an overdose of self esteem. On the other hand, I could care less what sad little anonymous poster on the other side of the world thinks about me. You are beneath me. Go away... Shoo.

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