May 01 2006

Spotting a Hot Spot

If you can't live without the Internet, even on the road, try one of these pocket Wi-Fi finders to help keep you connected.

Every road warrior knows that when traveling for days or weeks at a time it’s not easy to stay in the electronic loop with the main office and other remote workers. Hectic schedules, travel time and unpredictable Internet connections all stand in the way of their ability to remotely check e-mail and transfer files. Hence the popularity of Wi-Fi Internet-access hot spots, which allow travelers to maintain that vital link to their e-mail and other company data.

But whether stopping for lunch between meetings or changing planes at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, it’s not always easy to find the most convenient hot spot. Enter a new range of gadgets designed to take the pain out of remote wireless connectivity. These pocket or keychain devices won’t add much weight to your notebook bag, but they can help find, configure and even connect to the wireless Web.

They range from simple hot spot finders to universal serial bus (USB) Wi-Fi adapters that can find and connect a notebook or handheld PC to the nearest hot spot.

Seek and Find

The Iogear GWF001, which is smaller than a credit card and less than half-an-inch thick, can attach to a key ring and detects Wi-Fi 802.11b and 802.11g signals within a range of 492 feet in open space. This battery-operated device lists for less than $30 and saves users the trouble of booting their notebook each time they need to find a wireless access point.

With a single click of its DETECT button, a set of lights on the device indicates wireless coverage and signal strength of any Wi-Fi access points in range. The Iogear GWF001 is designed to detect other devices such as 2.4GHz cordless telephones, A/V transmitters, microwave ovens and Bluetooth devices, to help users avoid signal interference and find the best location to receive Wi-Fi signals. (These devices are also useful for network administrators who use Wi-Fi in an office to help locate and avoid interference and dead spots in their wireless networks.)

The TRENDnet TEW-T1 is about the size of a deck of playing cards but with similar features and able to run on AAA and 1.5V batteries. The $40 detector has a range of 197 to 295 feet outdoors and 66 to 148 feet indoors and also distinguishes other radio frequency transmissions to help users avoid possible signal interference.

For mobile users who don’t already have a Wi-Fi card installed in their notebook, want a backup connection on hand or need to connect a handheld through a USB port, the ZyXel AG-225H doubles as both a Wi-Fi detector and a 802.11a/b/g adapter that provides a secure wireless connection at up to 54Mb/sec. The $86 detector details the name and type of the networks it finds, the channel they use and whether they use the Wired-Equivalent Privacy (WEP) or Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption protocol. It can display up to 15 available hot spots, sorted by signal strength.

The AG-225H can also function as a wireless access point when the computer it’s plugged into also has a wired connection to its Ethernet port, allowing other Wi-Fi users to share the wired connection.

Seek and Store

For the ultimate road warrior, the TRENDnet TEW-429UF combines a Wi-Fi detector and Wi-Fi adapter with a handy USB flash memory drive. The $120 device includes 512MB of USB 2.0 flash storage and has a much longer range than most Wi-Fi detectors, identifying 802.11b/g hot spots within 328 to 984 feet outdoors and within115 to 328 feet indoors.

As with other Wi-Fi detectors, a single click scans for nearby hot spots without having to boot a computer, and the unit’s LCD display shows site survey information such as the SSID, channel information, encryption types and signal strengths.

CEO takeaway
Pocket Wi-Fi detectors and adapters are a good way to keep your key mobile workers productive and in the loop.


• A basic Wi-Fi detector can cost less than one good business lunch and can keep your mobile workers from wasting time searching for the nearest Internet hot spot.
• Combo devices with both a Wi-Fi detector and a USB adapter are inexpensive and easily shared by multiple users who only travel occasionally.
• The most versatile combos include extras such as USB flash drives and the ability to function as a wireless access point, which can be useful in a variety of situations, particularly for mobile workers and IT staff who support remote office locations.