Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tech Column: A Hotspot in Every Pocket

by Bill Adler

When Sandy came through town I wasn't worried. If the power was going to go, I might lose everything in my refrigerator, I might be really cold because there wasn't any heat and I might start to hate freezing morning showers.

But I wasn't worried about losing Internet.

As it turned out, the electricity was fine, but I did lose Internet for three days. That's where my backup Internet came to the rescue. Within a minute of bidding RCN farewell for how long I did not know, I was back online.

And you can be, too, if your Internet service provider waves bye-bye.

I turned on cellular data on my iPad, flipped the switch for "hotspot" and I was once again able to consult with the New York Times' editorial page about what opinions I ought to hold. My Internet speed was fast, too, because the iPad supports high speed LTE data. I had to be judicious about the amount of data I consumed, because my particular cellular data account maxes out at 2 GB a month, and I didn't know how long RCN's outage was going to last. But other than not being able to stream back-to-back cat videos on YouTube, there wasn't any practical difference as to how the Internet worked.

Many cell phones and tablets come with the ability to be wifi hotspots. Hotspots are wireless, like a regular wifi router; or you may be able to connect your phone or tablet to your computer with a cable. The prices, data limitations, speeds, the way they're turned on, vary by device, carrier and plan, so I don't want to get into the how-to of using a hotspot. That would be a very long article and would need to be revised soon, anyway. If you have a cell phone or tablet with cellular data, you probably have backup internet in your pocket.

With a hotspot you can connect your laptop, wifi-only tablet, eBook reader --anything you want-- to the Internet. Multiple devices can be connected simultaneously, so you can share with family and friends.

Now is a good time to confer with your phone or tablet's user manual and talk with your cell phone company about the costs and mechanics of turning your device into a hotspot. It's much easier to have that feature set up in advance, than to decide what to do first: call your cell phone company to provision your hotspot, or call your Internet service provider to report an outage.

A hotspot isn't just for Internet blackouts either. Hotel wifi speeds can be so slow that you're often much better off using your own hotspot. Amtrak, which offers free wifi on a number of trains, is also no Internet speed demon.

The hotspot feature is one of the most useful phone and cellular tablet capabilities.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft. He tweets at @billadler.

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