I am in Seattle on business at the moment. In fact, in the last couple of months, I have been travelling for either work or pleasure quite a lot. One thing that has always frustrated me a little is the lack of good wireless facilities in the hotels where I stay. Sure there is almost always an excellent wired broadband offering, but I always feel it would be great to be able to work wherever I felt comfortable. In the one hotel I stayed at that did have wireless, I got a lousy connection that barely stayed alive long enough to read an email…
Anyway, I am on business right now with my friend John. For a while now, his laptop has been slowly dying. Yesterday morning at 5am local time the inevitable jetlag had him awake and trying to get some work done. However, his network card had finally given up, and he was not able to get a connection to the internet, which in our business is not great news. Finally I got a text from him at about 6.45 saying “can we leave yet, I am bored”, and we duly headed off for an enormous IHOP breakfast.
On the drive over the 520 bridge, John started talking about “some Apple thing that might do wireless” that we eventually decided was an AirPort product. On arrival at the office, we checked out the Apple site and sure enough, the AirPort Express seemed to be the gadget to solve his problems. It essentially plugs into the wall, you plug in an ethernet cable, and it creates a mini wireless network. It also allows streaming of audio from a machine running iTunes somewhere else in the vicinity. It sounded good, but the price was a little steep – $129.
Once work was done for the day, we took an executive decision and drove to Fry’s Electronics in Renton. This is a Geek Superstore, selling everything from PC components and games machines to TVs and in-car audio – the average geek could spend hours in there. The average geek with a credit card could spend thousands in there.
The plan was to buy some sort of cheap PCMCIA wired network card so that his connectivity issues were solved at least, and then take a look at the AirPort. Sure enough, it still looked like a nugget of well-designed and useful Apple goodness. However, we stumbled across something else that was even better; something that you would have sworn had a market, but that I had surprisingly never seen before. A Wireless Travel Router.
The NetGear WGR101 54mpbs Wireless Travel Router to be precise. The box says:
- Pocket-sized – ideal for taking with you when you travel.
- Dual use – external switch for selecting between individual and group use.
- “Creates a wireless network from an internet connection in a hotel room or conference room”.
The deal-maker was the price – $49.90. Way less than half the price of the AirPort. John and I both bought one!!
And this thing rocks. It is completely configurable, so you can set up the SSID the network uses, includes security (WEP and WPA, as well as MAC address filtering), NAT routing, and an SPI firewall. You can even turn off SSID broadcast so that others cannot even see it. I tweaked my settings with the included network cable, plugged in the hotel broadband cable and I was off and running – simple as that. And it really is pocket sized – just tiny! – and it comes with a small case to keep it protected in transit.
If you travel a lot, or perhaps even arrange conferences and need multiple connectivity from a single internet source, this thing is a “must have” gadget. If you are travelling with colleagues and your rooms are fairly close, you can share one internet connection and save yourself $9.95 per night on the broadband charges.
[Post written wirelessly whilst tucked up in bed… ]
UPDATE: I just found out that this thing costs £49.99 on Amazon.co.uk! That makes it a cool gadget AND a bargain at $49.90…