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Maybe you don't need to pay anything to a hotel at all.  Maybe you can get all the internet connectivity you need from your cell phone's wireless service.

Now that wireless companies offer fast internet data service, you can consider using that to connect to the internet when traveling.

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Wireless Data Sharing Strategies Too

Avoid paying anything extra to hotels and other service providers

The tiny (half the size of a pack of cards) MiFi unit from Sprint and/or Verizon provides a great way to share a wireless data signal.

This is part of a series on how to share internet access.  See related articles listed on the right.



The data connectivity offered by cell phone companies has been evolving.  Whereas only five years ago it was laughably slow and almost completely unusable, current 3G and the new 4G type data services offer internet as fast as traditional wired and Wi-Fi connections.

And so it becomes practical to consider using such services not just on your cell phone, but on other devices as well.  You can use a provided MiFi type device to create your own low powered Wi-Fi network to share among your computers, phones, tablets, etc.  Other ways of achieving the same objective also exist.

Hitching a Ride on Your Cell Phone or Wireless Device

Here's another approach to getting the raw internet connection in the first place.  Maybe you can not only save yourself having to pay extra for each additional device you connect to the internet in your hotel room - maybe you can save yourself needing to pay for the internet access in the first place.

You may be able to share the wireless data service used by your cell phone.  If not, you may choose to purchase a freestanding wireless data receiver and use that as a means to access the internet.

Data Coverage

One thing to be aware of is that none of the cell phone companies have as extensive a coverage for their 3G data service as they do for their regular voice and slower 2G and 2.5G data services.

And the newest 4G service is currently only available in very limited parts of a very few cities.

It pays to check the coverage maps offered by your wireless provider before traveling anywhere to see if it is likely that you'll be able to access their fast data service on your travels.

Note also that even in areas that theoretically should have good data service, you may find you can't connect.  We think that the metallic tinting used by some hotels on their windows not only screens out the sun's UV rays and heat but may also block a large portion of the radio wave energy too.

So while these products may work - in some places - in theory, you can't be sure they will work satisfactorily in practice until you are actually in your hotel room.

Generally you may find better service if your room is higher up the building, and sometimes rooms on one side of the building will be better than the rooms on the other side (one side is more likely to be facing the nearest cell tower whereas the other side will have the entire hotel structure between your room and the tower).

You might also get better signal if you move the wireless device close to the window.  Try moving it around the room to find the best location.

Do not use internationally

Be very careful before using any of these devices outside of the US.  Your data service contract almost certainly doesn't apply outside the US (correct - this means that Canada too is excluded).

Instead of your contracted rate and included 'free' data, you might find yourself paying huge sums for roaming service - commonly $1000 or more per GB.

Tethering Your Phone

The easiest and least expensive way of accessing wireless data is to 'tether' your cell phone and connect to the internet via your phone, using its current data plan.  In such a case, you'll not pay anything extra at all.

Some (but not all) cell phones with 3G or 4G data service can be tethered and connected to your laptop, acting just like a modem used to act.  In the old days, you'd use a modem to connect your laptop to the phone line and through it to dial up internet access; in today's modern world, you can sometimes use your cell phone as a modem to connect your laptop to its 3G/4G wireless data and through that to the internet.

Similar concepts apply as used to apply to old fashioned modems.  Enquire with your wireless company if your phone is capable of being tethered.  You might need to buy a special cable to connect the phone to your computer.

Even if the wireless company says the phone can't be tethered, it is possible that it can be.  Search for your phone make/model and the word 'tether' on Google to see if there are third party ways of tethering your phone.

The Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus (with Verizon or Sprint service) can apparently create its own Wi-Fi network without needing to go through a laptop.

The new HTC HD2 phone, with T-mobile service, can also have a program added to it which will make it create a Wi-Fi rebroadcast of its data service.  You'll have to search for this on Google, because T-Mobile doesn't officially allow it.

If you can and do successfully tether your phone, you probably could then use Connectify to rebroadcast the cell phone's internet service to other nearby devices over the computer's Wi-Fi card, thereby allowing its data to be used not only by your laptop but also by any other devices you brought with you.  Note - see our review of Connectify for some possible issues with sharing 3G/4G wireless data service connections.

iPhones can't be tethered

Note that iPhones - while in theory are capable of being tethered - have this ability disabled, presumably at the request of AT&T who don't want their data network - already struggling to grow at the same rate their iPhone subscriber numbers are growing - to be further overloaded.

Part of the assumption in AT&T's 'unlimited data' wireless plans is that you won't actually use much of the theoretically unlimited data, because, after all, just how much data can a regular cell phone need?  Not much is the normal answer, but if you connect it up to a laptop, then the data usage can inflate enormously, hence they frown on it.

Wireless to Wi-Fi Devices - 'MiFi'

Several wireless companies offer tiny boxes, about the size of half a pack of cards, that will receive their wireless data service and then convert it into a small area Wi-Fi network, to which you can connect your computer and other Wi-Fi equipped devices.

These are often known as a 'MiFi' device, available from Verizon and Sprint (and are actually made by Novatel).  They don't cost a great deal, but usually you also have to buy service on a two year contract (about $60/month for about 5GB of monthly data).

The Wi-Fi signal they broadcast is much weaker than from a regular Wi-Fi router, but it is sufficient to fill a hotel room or a small part of a larger open area.  But it probably would not punch through from one hotel room to the next, or if it does, it would be a weak and unreliable signal.

Note there is also a MiFi device being sold in Europe - it has the same name, it does the same sort of thing, but it is a different product made by a different company (Huawei).  Your US MiFi device will not work in Europe, and similarly, the European MiFi devices won't work in the US.

USB Stick Wireless Devices

Most of the wireless companies also offer wireless data modems in the form of a USB stick.  The stick receives 3G wireless data; you simply plug the USB stick into a computer and it connects to the internet via the stick.

Again, you can possibly retransmit the wireless data received from the USB stick via Connectify to other devices you also have with you.

Similar pricing plans apply, as do similar cost-justification exercises, to the MiFi type devices.

Wireless Equipped Netbooks Too

Some netbooks can be purchased with a built in wireless data receiver.  These provide the same sort of connectivity, built in, as you'd get from an external wireless USB stick, simply built in.

And they too could potentially then have their service rebroadcast, via their Wi-Fi card, and shared with other devices using the Connectify software discussed here.

Justifying the Cost of a Wireless Data Device

If you buy some sort of wireless data device, you'll pay anything from about $50 to $200 for the device itself, and then you'll probably have to commit to a two year contract for service on the device, which typically seems to run about $60/month.

But $60 might be no more than you pay a hotel for just four days of internet service - or, to put it another way, $720 a year is maybe the same as 48 days in hotels per year.  Do you generally spend $60 a month on hotel internet service?

You're not only saving in hotels, though.  You're saving anywhere and everywhere else in situations where you'd otherwise have to buy internet access.  For example, in an airport while waiting for a flight.

And you're also saving yourself the cost you'd otherwise pay if you have an iPad and want 3G service on that.  Instead of spending $130 to add 3G data capability to your iPad and either $15 or $30/month for service, why not spend the same amount or less to get a MiFi or other device, and then with the $60/month data plan, you can use it with your iPad plus also all your other internet connecting devices too.

Such a device also extends the places where you can access the internet.  You're not now restricted only to places with an internet plug or Wi-fi service.  You can use it at the local park, or maybe when camping (if 3G service is available) or if you're having a business lunch at a local restaurant or anywhere else that the 3G signal reaches.

I'll stop before I start sounding like an advertisement for MiFi!

Keep reading......

For information about why you need to share a single internet connection, please return to the first part of this series.

For information on a free Windows 7/8/10 software solution that conveniently allows you to share an internet connection, please click forward to the next part of this series.

Related Articles, etc

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Originally published 9 April 2010, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
Using Multiple Devices on One Internet Access Account
Hardware Solutions to Share Internet Access
Wireless Internet Access sharing
Connectify free sharing software

Accessing the Internet when Traveling
Hotel Internet Access


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