Wireless Internet tips for the Portland area

One Freecycler asked on 2004-05-20:
OK, can someone tell me the deal with WiFi? I have two pretty ancient (1996? and 98?) PC laptops that I want to have wireless access on at home and at coffeeshops, school, etc. I know I need to have a wireless card?

Do they have PCMCIA Type II or III, or PC Card Type II or III card slots? That's needed for wirelessing.

and get a router at home, right?

Probably, not necessarily; there are exceptions (A3 and A5).

I don't have cable or anything, so I need to order something for the house that gives me this type of access?


If, at home, all you have is a dial-up modem, you owuld need broadband, and there are five ways to do that without getting obscenely spendy:

A1. DSL from Qworst. You can get 'business DSL' from them, including the things an ISP does (e-mail, USENET), or you can pick a DSL-capable ISP and pay Qworst for the DSL connection and pay the ISP for the ISP stuff.

A2. Cable modem (from Comcast?) costs about the same as Qwest's ISP+DSL package. Speed can be faster than DSL, but once everyone else in the neighborhood gets cable modems, the speed is about the same, because DSL gives you a direct line back to the phone company central office, whereas cable has you sharing the cable line with your neighbors for several blocks. I use Comcast, but would rather have Verizon DSL; unfortunately, I'm in Qworst territory. Comcast, BTW, charges you $10/mo more if you buy their broadband but do NOT take cable from them. You can get a cheaper rate if you provide your own cable modem, but that can get technical, so to start, you may just want to pay extra and rent theirs.

A3. Wireless from a Wireless ISP, such as VeriLan. Slightly spendier than 1 or 2, but if you want WiFi in multiple locations, it could be a lot cheaper than broadband + broadband hardware + WiFi access charges at Starbuck's or wherever. Requires a WiFi card in your computer, the same WiFi card you would use while roaming. Yes, they can serve both home computers as well as laptops. You may need to get a WiFi card which works with external antennas and wire it to a Cantenna on a pole outside to get their signal at home, depending on if you can see the KGW tower (it's in the West Hills with two peaks on it) or their other sites.

A4. Piggyback on a neighbor's broadband. Work out a sharing arrangement, and then buy a wireless router for them and for you, a model with two antennas which will work with an external antenna. Put directional antennas on each wireless router (like the Cantenna) and aim them at each other. Add a personal firewall like ZoneAlarm freeware, and look into the security offered by your own version of Windows (which can be excellent or atrocious), as no doubt you have files you may not wish your neighbor to see.

A5. Put a cellular modem card in your laptops, and just connect through T-Mobile, ATT Wireless, Sprint or Verizon. No need for any networking gear at home, and the laptop would have its own connection anywhere there's a cellular signal. Modem prices on E-Bay (for an unlocked Sierra Aircard 750) run $50-$80, or there are cheaper modems (the discontinued Merlin G100 you can get almost free _if_ you activate it through the seller). I have unlimited T-Mobile internet, which runs at about the same speed as a dial-up modem, for my mobile computers for $31/mo per machine; the other cellular carriers are faster but spendier.


B1. Well, plan A5 would work away from home, too. Plan A3 could, too; but, both might not, as they might not have signal where you want to take your laptops. Have to check signal maps, talk to the companies and find out what their no-charge cancellation period is, and make sure to test it IMMEDIATELY after activation everywhere you might want to use it.

B2. Some places (schools, Pioneer Courthouse square, and other locations) have free WiFi. Buy a card, put it in your laptop, configure it, and you can share their connection.

B3. Or, you can pay for use, through T-Mobile (they do WiFi as well as cellular), SprintPCS, Wayport and other outfits. Brochures at Starbuck's and many McDonald's, or just check on the web. Buy a card, stick it in, configure it and pay for use, or buy a flat rate plan.

I was going to just ask Qwest, but I trust them about as far as I can throw them, so I thought I would ask you nice people :)

The DSL/Wireless routers Qwest sells from Actiontek are hideous, and Actiontek charges for support. Linksys has been very helpful on support issues. Other folks make good gear, too: visit Epinions.com, Cnet.com, PCmag.com and other review sites.

also, i have regular dial-up and I see from my dial-up provider that hi-speed is offered from them through the phone line itself? would that be better and cheaper?

That's DSL - as in A1 above.

as far as monthly charges, what is standard for this service/these parts

$50 a month and up for broadband

and where is a good place to start shopping?

Next, visit DSL Reports and Wi-Fi Planet to help you find ISPs, and look at security tips at Lockergnome and at Search Security.com.

And, that's the free consult.

I could go into wireless PDAs (like the PalmPhones I have, or PDAs with WiFi in them like the Sony UX-50, Palm Tungsten W and others), but that's getting into Topic Drift. If you want to know more, ask.