Mobile Computing: Wireless Dial-Up

Feature: Wireless Dial-Up

You might recall that a while ago I offered tips--from readers as well as from myself--about making the most of a dial-up connection. Those two columns were "The Lowdown on Dial-Up" and "More Dial-Up Access Tips."

Recently, I had the opportunity to test the WiFlyer from Always On. This device promises not only to make it easier to get a dial-up connection, but it also turns that connection into an instant 802.11b wireless network.

Skeptic that I am, I did some informal tests. My verdict: The WiFlyer is one of the easiest devices I've ever used to both make a dial-up connection and create an instant wireless network. The WiFlyer does two things, and it does them both well.

First, it acts as a dial-up modem. Most of you are rolling your eyes right now, saying: "Puh-leeze, I already have a dial-up modem." Yes, but does yours automatically launch a Web page with a simple set-up screen, so that you can configure your dial-up connection in, oh, let's say 5 seconds? I'd hazard to guess the answer is no.

Second, the WiFlyer is a compact wireless access point. It can create an instant wireless network from either a dial-up connection or from a broadband Ethernet network. Best of all, it creates the wireless network super fast. For example, I created a Wi-Fi network in less than 5 minutes.

Before you roll your eyes again, I'll answer your next "oh puh-leeze" question: "Why would I want a wireless dial-up connection?"

Consider this: You're in a hotel without broadband Internet access; they still exist. You have to dial up to get online, and you'd rather be able to work in bed or at a desk where the phone jack isn't convenient. With a wireless dial-up connection and a wireless-enabled notebook, you're free to work anywhere in the vicinity of the phone jack. Also, if there are two of you in the hotel room, and you both need online access, you can share the wireless network. The same arguments hold true if you're staying in a hotel, a friend's home, or elsewhere with a broadband Ethernet network.

I see your next question coming, and I'm ready for it: "Can I secure this instant wireless network?" The WiFlyer enables you to set encryption, MAC address filtering, and other Wi-Fi security controls. Although it works, I found this part of the process a bit confusing. A wizard-based approach for dummies (such as yours truly) would have been appreciated.

Another complaint: The WiFlyer requires an AC power adapter of its own; it can't draw power from the computer. The AC adapter is yet one more thing to carry, and potentially lose, on my next business trip.

Always On's WiFlyer isn't your only portable wireless access point/router option, of course. Others are available from Apple, Linksys, and others. But if you regularly rely on dial-up connectivity when traveling, or you want the option to easily create a wireless network connection, I'd recommend giving WiFlyer a try.

The WiFlyer costs about $130, and it's available from various online retailers, such as

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