Need Help on Wireless

I want to get a laptop computer to take when traveling and be able to access the Internet. I know absolutely nothing about wireless. I currently use AOL on a dial-up (the only thing available in my area). I do know that I can use a laptop within a certain distance from the wireless connection.

If I were to have a laptop in a location where wireless Internet is available would I be able to access AOL and still be able to use my desktop when home?

Do new laptops come with the wireless card or must it be purchased separately?

Is wireless something I can have at home, even though I use dial-up for AOL? My granddaughter lives with us when not in college and she has a laptop. I'd like her to be able to use wireless when here. What equipment will I need?

As you can tell I don't know much about this although I've had a desktop computer for many years and am quite computer literate -- not just about wireless.



[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Wireless connections consist of at least two parts: the thin card (about the size/shape of a credit card) which fits in the side of a laptop computer, and the 'base station', which typically will be a 'wireless router' or some other device which feeds into the modem. Typically, this 'base station' is attached to some high speed, or broadband internet connection. I suppose it could feed into a dial up connection, but I have never seen it done that way.

You _can_ use AOL or any other ISP on a high speed connection, such as you have probably read about. To your modem (or router and modem) the WiFi 'base station' is the computer, although you often times have to 'register' the MAC address of the wireless device with the ISP, as a 'new computer being used at your location'. At least, that is needed on cable internet or DSL. When I have purchased new routers for my system here, and put them on the cable, the first thing the cable provider did was wake up and say, "oh, something new" and take me to a 'registration screen' where the cable internet provider wanted to know all about the 'new computer' it would be dealing with. If you buy a new laptop for your grandchild, you may get a wifi card as part of the deal, but if you do not need a new laptop, I suggest you buy the unit as a separate thing. A NetGear wireless router and WiFi card costs about a hundred dollars total, but you can buy the cards as a separate thing if you already have the 'base station'. The card costs maybe $40-50 by itself for a decent card to use in a home computer/laptop, and comes with a full instruction/set up manual.

An important word of caution: The range for these units is typically between 100-200 feet, more or less, and line-of-sight is important for best performance. _Anyone_ with a wireless card in _their_ computer within that range will be able to intercept and monitor your work, any passwords or other details, unless you take a few precautions: (1) it is a good idea to _not_ 'broadcast' your wireless station's availability, and (2) it is a good idea to encrypt your transmissions. Your instruction book will explain all that in more detail. The encryption process will slow down your transmission speed a little, but if you are going to be working via dialup as you said, it probably will not make much difference.

If you are paranoid like me, only two or three people here in town even know of my wireless connection: I can sit on my back porch or back yard garden by the bird sanctuary and communicate pretty well, then I can come inside the house and switch to my desktop machine (a different port on the same router) and continue from there. I _can_ go out on my front sidewalk and sit on the ledge there also but when people occassionally walk past they see me doing it; and anyway, there is a fellow across the streeet with a Wi-fi set up and I have noticed I can get now and then _his_ setup, so I assume he can 'see' mine also. But not from my backyard. If you get a wireless router (as well as the card) then you should be able to go back and forth between desktop and laptop with ease. And when your grandchild is there she should be able to use her laptop with the wireless card as well, but probably not both of you at once unless you get a bigger 'pipe' than dialup. Do you have any more questions? I am sure the experts here will be glad to help you or walk you through the installation as needed. PAT]

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