Category Archives: Wireless

Internet on the hop

If you are the sort of person who misses out on a fast internet connection because you move around a lot, or can’t get fibre broadband, you do still have some choices to network your location.

The simplest is mobile broadband from your phone provider (although some have better coverage than others) which is a matchbox-sized device that uses 4G signals to give wifi connections to devices. Great for the car but usually limit the amount you can download.

If you tend to move your location a lot (say a contractor or you have a caravan) then there are two choices. One is a router that has a SIM card slot so it acts like a bigger version of the device above. This lets you create a network between devices (eg your laptop and a printer) which is great, but most are designed to use the SIM card as a backup rather than a primary connection so will still be limited to capacity by your contract.

As the second and final option, Vodafone and BT offer dedicated 4G hubs, called Gigacube and 4G homehub respectively. These are purpose-built units that give all the capabilities of a standard wifi network together with a much greater download allowance (up to unlimited).

As 5G rolls out all these options will benefit from the faster connection speeds if you want them. However, do be aware that 5G – and 4G – don’t have great (or any signal) everywhere so it might be worth checking the mobile provider’s coverage map.

The best thing about all these options are that you set up and configure the network once, then plonk it down wherever you are and it just works!

Copy files from your phone

Nearly everyone these days is using a phone or tablet as a camera. But how can I get my photos (and other stuff) from my phone to my computer so I can print, email, etc.?

Like most I’ve suffered through trying Wi-Fi, USB cables and other black magic

I’ve been using a great free app called AirDroid (for iOS and Android). Simply download the program to your computer and set up an account. Then load the app on your phone, login and you are off. Select any file you want to send and then send or share it via AirDroid. If your have both devices on the same network it will be copied virtually instantly. Be aware that some security programs on your computer might need tweaking to allow AirDroid access

Simple and AirDroid can do much more such as remote control, send and receive SMS and whatsapp on your computer.

Banish Wi-Fi deadspots

It seems that nearly everything we use these needs Wi-Fi. Yet it can be the very devil, especially if you have a big building, thick walls or even just a cheap router.

Wi-Fi is quite touchy and runs out of energy pretty quickly when trying to get to you. So you need to help it. Older options include Wi-Fi repeaters which are pretty good about making Wi-Fi more powerful in one area, but what if you need more?

If you are trying to get Wi-Fi to the office at the bottom of the garden, then you need powerline (also called HomePlug) to get broadband down there.

But if the issue is lots of deadspots on the fringes of your Wi-Fi coverage, then a solution called a mesh network can help. Reception in my kitchen is terrible but moving to the hall makes it fine. These mesh systems talk to each other and so find the best route around your building for them to communicate.

Your device just sees one network, but stronger and faster. There are lots of systems out there but ones from BT, Google and Hauwei (I’m too dull for them to want to hack me!) rate highly.

Poor mobile signal at home?

In the past, phone providers would supply you with a Femtocell that connects to your broadband and broadcasts a mobile signal in a small area – a sort of ‘mini-mast’

Now most network operators provide wifi calling for users with pay-monthly contracts. It is limited to certain phones and doesn’t apply to ‘virtual’ network providers like Virgin or Sky. WiFi calling works in a similar way to the Femtocell but uses the wifi in your device to connect directly to your router and thus broadband. You just use your phone the same way for wifi calling and calls are billed as normal.

EE is starting to offer the ability to use the same phone number across all your wifi connected Apple devices such as iPhones (Android is coming later), tablets and computers. So you can send and receive calls and text from all of them and make multiple calls at the same time. Find out more at the EE website link .

Finding free wifi

More and more of what we do is cloud-based, so finding wifi becomes more important. Here are a couple of apps that can help you find wifi wherever you are in the world. Luckily they do work offline (if you download the data before you go!)
Avast Wi-Fi finder for Android and iOS shows you where hotspots are if you download the data for the country or city of interest before you set off. Not all the hotspots are free. It does push adverts at the user.
Wi-Fi Map is another good one. This uses crowd-sourced data to keep up to date with locations and often any passwords needed. However, this one is more city-based than getting info for a whole country and keeps offering a Norton VPN to install

Who’s using your wifi?

We have to be so careful these days to protect our internet and any tool can be helpful. Bitdefender is a security package that I rate and they offer a free home scanner to anyone.

Download the program and it will look for any other devices on your home network, followed by a detailed scan of them all.

The first question to ask yourself is ‘do I recognize that has been found?’. That sounds easy if the device name is “someone elses iphone” but not so good for ‘ limted’ which turned out to be my Hive Thermostat.

Having finished the scan, it tells you of any vulnerabilities that it has found. In my case I needed to update the firmware on my router.

Virtual Private Networks

More and more of us are working out of the office using public wifi. Really handy, but a security risk. If you connect to a Wi-Fi network that then takes you to a web page to login to the network, then all of your data is unencrypted and thus exposed to anyone who cares to have a look. A bit like the intercepted ‘Squidy’ phone calls of 2008.

Also concerning is that we don’t know whether to trust the network: it might have been set up by a bad person.

So I have been experimenting with Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Once a VPN is running, then it creates a virtual but encrypted ‘tunnel’ across the network to an end-point where it can escape to the internet.

VPNs also give you a random IP address (That’s how the internet knows which computer you are), that hides your internet identity and many let you choose which country the other end of the VPN is in.

There might be slight issues if an internet service you use expects a specific IP address, but so far I’ve been pretty impressed with Private Internet Access, which lets you run it on five devices (Windows, OSX, Linux, Android, iOS) at once. I’m happy to pay $39.95 a year to keep my data safe.