Friday, April 29, 2016

Sharing a Wifi Signal, Making Your PC into a Wifi Hotspot

Update 5-13-16:
I bought a $19 Edimax BR-6258nL travel router.  To frequent flyers and others who have been doing research on WISP routers and whether a WISP router can indeed work with a wifi hotspot that requires a login page -- YES INDEED, this travel router works just fine. 

I am loving it, and I have to say, Comcast and their wide network of Xfinity hotspots.  I am at my summer house in Washington State, and one of the things I did after the first year of ownership here, was to cancel my Comcast service, which supplied my internet and TV. 

It's been an education, and interesting to get by without paying Comcast $80 per month (which I only used when I was at our summer house, which is sometimes not very often).  I get high-def TV using an antenna (thanks to the great site) but the far-away stations get lost at low tide.  That's OK.  Internet access has been more of a problem; in past years, I've used an iPad with Verizon cellular data access here, which can get expensive.

Because I am a Comcast subscriber at my other house, however, I am able to log in and use Comcast's many Xfinity hotspots, which really are nearly everywhere.  At my house, I get an Xfinity wifi signal, but using it requires logging in to the hotspot through a login page.  My iPad and smartphones for some reason were not able to log in.

I describe, below, using a Windows laptop to log into a wifi hotspot that requires logging in -- and then becoming a wifi hotspot itself.  However, the Edimax BR-6258nL travel router does this too, and it is does it all much better, far more consistently, with far faster data speeds, than the Windows laptop. This is called "WISP" mode -- and it does this: borrows existing wireless Internet and broadcasts it using a different network name(SSID) and password. 

I've now had two days of near-continuous internet access through what used to be a very spotty Xfinity connection.  The Edimax travel router picks up the Xfinity hotspot signal easily, and it rebroadcasts it as a traditional wifi hotspot with an SSID and password (not requiring a login page). 

The initial setup was a bit tricky.  Thanks to the always useful flyertalk forums for hints that this would work, and in particular, thanks to Colin Robinson and the following web page for showing the process of setting up this router step-by-step:

I got stuck on the last steps of setting up the Edimax router, and here's the solutions provided by the above website:

6. Click on the wireless network you want to connect to. If the connection is encrypted, enter the encryption password in the field below the SSID name. Then click next
7. Wait a few seconds again, then on the next screen click on Setup Internet Automatically.
 8. Since most public WiFi-Hotspots are assign IP address dynamically, make sure you have Dynamic IP selected on the next screen, then click on next.
9. On the next screen, for public WiFi-Hotspots there’s no need to enter or change any of the settings. Just click on the apply button at the bottom of the screen.
10. If all is well, the next screen will display “Congratulations! Your devise is established” just click on the “I want to surf the internet now” button. Your web browser will now automatically redirect to your default home page or to the Hotspot logon page. 

On clicking on “I want to surf the internet now” button, you maybe redirected to a Hotspot logon page.  Double check your laptops wireless connection to make sure you’re still connected to the EdiMax travel router and it did not directly connect to the hotspot.  If you are still connected to the EdiMax travel router, logon to the wireless hotspot in the normal way.  

Your EdiMax travel router is now connected to the Hotspot and you can share your Internet connection through its own wireless signal with other devices .  Just connect these devices to the EdiMax to share the internet connection. 


I travel a lot, so getting the internet when I am traveling is an obsession. 

There are many ways to get the internet when traveling.  I've been using an iPad 3 with Verizon data, and the iPad can be turned into a wifi hotspot.  I have cell phones with Sprint and other networks, and those cell phones can be turned into wifi hotspots.  The only problem is that getting data this way can be expensive, especially if you forget about turning off automatic updates on your laptop.  Those updates can suck up 500 Mb of data instantly and without you knowing it -- costing you half a month's allotment of data, costing anywhere from $15 to $30 and even more. 

Macs have a way to share an internet signal that lots of folks know about.  If a Mac is getting the internet through a wired Ethernet cable, then it is fairly easy to turn that Mac into a wifi hotspot.  Go to System Preferences --> Sharing, and click on Internet Sharing.  Unfortunately, with a Mac, if you are getting the internet through Mac's wifi card, then you cannot also share that wifi signal.  In another writer's words: The one big limitation is that you can’t both be connected to a Wi-Fi network and host a Wi-Fi network at the same time.

Here's a scenario.  You are in a hotel, and the hotel allows you to use the wifi in your room, but you are only allowed to log in for one device.  You have three devices that need internet data -- your MacBook, your smartphone, and your iPad.  What to do? 

You could get the wifi signal through your MacBook, and then share that internet connection through the MacBook's Bluetooth connection, to other devices.  I've spent hours attempting to do this with no luck -- with a couple of Android phones and an iPad 3. 

Sharing Bluetooth on a Mac -- this NEVER worked for me

If you have a Windows laptop, however, you CAN receive wifi on it and then share that wifi signal!  Again, from another writer: Windows has a useful feature that allows you to create a virtual Wi-Fi adapter interface, making it possible to both connect to a Wi-Fi network and create a Wi-Fi hotspot using the same physical network interface at the same time. This feature is hidden, but you can access it using the Virtual Router software — this uses the same Windows features as Connectify, a commercial application.

I've downloaded and tested the Windows-compatible application "Virtual Router" which can be found at:

Here's the description:
Virtual Router is a free, open source software based router for PCs running Windows 8, Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2. Using Virtual Router, users can wirelessly share any internet connection (Wifi, LAN, Cable Modem, Dial-up, Cellular, etc.) with any Wifi device (Laptop, Smart Phone, iPod Touch, iPhone, Android Phone, Zune, Netbook, wireless printer, etc.) These devices connect to Virtual Router just like any other access point, and the connection is completely secured using WPA2 (the most secure wireless encryption.)

Virtual Router was amazingly simple and easy to use.  I installed it, it gave a simple window showing the network name, and I entered a password and chose "share wifi signal."  BOOM, the Windows laptop became a wifi hotspot.  I was able to connect my MacBook Pro to this wifi hotspot immediately.  I did have a few problems initially with the MacBook Pro disconnecting from Virtual Router -- but after figuring out the best places to put the two laptops -- the connection has rarely dropped in the past day.  The Windows laptop serving as a wifi hotspot does not transmit too far -- about 20 feet, through a wall. 

However, I've not been able to connect my Android phones to Virtual Router, nor an iPad 3.  I was able to connect the iPad 3 once, after restarting the Windows machine and restarting the Virtual Router software.  However, the connection kept getting dropped for the iPad, whereas the connection remained steady for the MacBook. 

I've therefore tried Connectify, which took a long time to install, and required the Microsoft .Net 4 framework.  I kept getting a fatal installation error, so could not install Connectify. 

I am sure that there are other devices out there that do the same thing, so there's no reason to lug a Windows laptop around, but I have not tried these yet. 

PS I'd like to actually give compliments to Comcast and its Xfinity wifi hotspots, which are all over the place!  If you are an existing Comcast internet customer, then when you drive or travel to other places, you might see Xfinity wifi hotspots.  Just log into those hotspots with your usual Comcast username and password -- and voila! you will be on the internet.  I've been driving around the US quite a bit recently, and I've seen an Xfinity hotspot nearly everywhere that I've been. 

There are also tons of free wifi hotspots around the US.  Examples are McDonald's, Starbucks, and Fred Meyer stores.

PPS There is a product called the Cradlepoint MBR-95 router that I've personally tested and used extensively.  It has a feature called "Wifi as WAN."  This cool router can take a wifi signal from, say, a coffeeshop or another wireless access point, and broadcast that wifi signal over a much larger range.  For instance, I have a Sprint Overdrive Pro wifi hotspot, which takes a Sprint cellular data signal and lets me browse the web on my laptop.  When I am traveling and in one place for a while, I will set up the Sprint hotspot up, and I can roam around a room using that wifi hotspot. However, the range is limited.  The MBR-95 router can take the wifi signal from the Sprint hotspot and then re-broadcast it over a much wider range.  It is a true router, so I am able to plug in devices like security cameras in using Ethernet cables or over wifi.

The Cradlepoint MBR-95 router doesn't seem to work with cell phones that have been set up as wifi hotspots, for some reason.  It also will not work with Comcast's Xfinity hotspots -- because these hotspots require a separate login via a webpage.

No comments: