Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine
In search of hotspots
Travel routers can keep you connected when you are off the beaten track, writes David Behrens.
It’s become the norm to pack a phone, laptop and perhaps a media streaming stick when you travel, so why not a router as well? After all, accessing the internet from whichever hotel room you find yourself in is as much of a prerequisite these days as a comfy pillow.
You can’t pick up the router in your house and take it on your travels. But you can buy a travel-sized version that gives you many of the same benefits.
A travel router, sometimes called a nano router, is just a little bigger than a credit card and works by taking the mobile signal from your phone or a public hotspot and redistributing it to your own private network. It improves the signal in hardto-reach areas and saves you the trouble of having to log into a new network at each destination. Depending on the type of you have, you may also be able to access your Netflix account on the hotel screen.
At less than £35, that functionality already makes one of these a must-have item for the regular traveller. But travel routers are veritable Swiss Army knives, with a raft of uses even when you’re at home. You can, for instance, use them to extend the range of your main router or to create a second network within your house. They can also provide wi-fi to devices that accept cabled connections only. All you need to do to change from one mode to another is log into the router’s control panel on a browser and go through a quick set-up process.
TP-Link is the best-known manufacturer of portable routers, although most of the other big names have at least one in their range. The current TP-Link model is the WR902AC, which can be powered either from the mains or a spare USB port on your laptop, and which delivers a strong enough signal for streaming high-definition video.
But you still need to provide it with an internet signal in the first place, and as long as you have plenty of data on your monthly allowance, the cheapest way to do this is through your phone. Most tariffs today allow the use of mobile tethering, by which your signal is shared with nearby devices. Your phone generates its own wi-fi hotspot to which your travel router then connects. If you’re familiar with this process, you will know that it works without the addition of a router, but the more devices you connect, the less you can do with the phone itself. A router helps with the heavy lifting.
And if you choose to redistribute a public hotspot through your router, you will be spared the interminable log-in process each time.
These hotspots are ubiquitous these days, especially in town and city centres, and you can subscribe for a few pounds at a time or around £40 a month. BT has the largest network and allows many of its broadband subscribers to access them as part of their package. O2 has a similar arrangement. And, of course, many hotels, shops and cafes have free hotspots for their clients. But they rarely offer a fast connection – certainly nothing like you’re used to at home – and the more people using them, the slower they will be.
They’re also not inherently secure, and the use of a travel router won’t make them more so.
You can find a hotspot near you by simply looking at the list of available wi-fi connections on your phone. If you want to check availability in advance, there are various websites and apps that will search across all providers. It’s still a piecemeal service but it does mean that however far you wander off the beaten track, you need never lose your connection to civilisation.
You may also be able to access your Netflix account on the hotel screen.