So, the world is migrating to free internet access. Even the NYTimes, today, has an article on the subject, saying, in effect, "It's not coming, it's here!" (The first paragraph, in part: "No fewer than 300 cities and towns around the nation have taken wireless Internet access, or Wi-Fi, to the people. San Francisco's aim is to make the entire city a hot spot, Chicago plans to blanket the city with access, and large parts of Philadelphia are to go wireless soon.")
I'll be on a boat full time. I'll be in range, more or less, of lots of freely available access - such as San Francisco Bay, for example. I want to be able to sit in the cabin (less signal due to fiberglass, mast, rigging, etc.) or on deck, and access *WITHOUT WIRES* the available signal(s) on my laptop.
Where I am now, there are very marginal signals available from several free sites. There are also stronger signals available from several subscription sites. So, I need either my external antenna's configuration utility, or my internal Windoze Zero Configuration utility to be able to specify to which of the access points I wish to associate my computer. Because I'll be in differing locales, I'll not know the SSID or MAC addresses in advance. Likewise, because I have no control over what's used, I have no assurance that what I have installed will be the same manufacturer's in the AP. So, requirements that I have the same mfr. gear, or specify SSID or MAC are out. Likewise, as subscription sites are likely to have more powerful stations, or just where I am at the time might have such differences, just having the gear associate with the strongest signal won't get it either.
Previous attempts to find something I could put up the mast, with some minor amplification to enable returning the signal, and about an 8.5dBi omni antenna to hear the signal (omni because at anchor one never knows the direction we'll face, and it changes all the time, and 8.5 because it's strong enough without having a totally narrow pattern which would limit what it saw) have failed miserably.
However, I'm reasonably sure that's just because I haven't looked in the right places. I have a relatively unlimited amount of 12V available to power this setup, whether POE or directly wired. If it doesn't come that way, I can put whatever it is in a NEMA waterproof enclosure, keeping it safe, with the antenna N-mounted to the box or the mast, putting all that very high up, assuring good range.
So, who knows what I need to accomplish this? Recall that I want to be able to have my laptop see the shoreside point, through whatever is up the mast, and be able to communicate with it, in the same fashion as I'd do if I were in immediate laptop range. Intermediate steps (such as seeing the SSIDs and manually entering the one I want after selection from what's available) are acceptable, but definitely not preferred over WZC or the like's point and click.
I've entertained, but had defective/faulty/somehow not work ethernet-connected bridges with the same omni 8.5dBi antenna setup associate but fail to actually pass data, to a station known good as I can (like now) communicate over it with my USB external antenna. As both of the Senao2611CB3 Deluxe units I had behaved in that fashion, I assume this is another case of manufacturer specific or other limiting circumstances, as I (gasp!) about wore out the owner's manual, and did every possible change, one at a time, with no success (other than association and the same signal and link ratios as found on my USB antenna). So, I've given up on those.
Is there a plug-and-play solution to this technical challenge? Anybody done the equivalent (something free-standing, some distance away from your laptop, and a very long distance from the selectable AP you're using)?
Thanks for the assistance. We're getting ready to leave, permanently, and would surely like to be able to access all the free APs now arising.