How to connect to a wireless hotspot

The dawn of mobile computing as we know it can be traced back to Intel's decision to add a wireless radio to its low-cost Centrino chip. As Wi-Fi-capable laptops took off, wireless broadband gradually became available in cities, towns and even remote locations. But for several years, getting online while away from your office or home was a tricky business.

After tracking down an internet cafe and enduring an interminable wait for your turn, you'd face a nerve-wracking ordeal. Perched on an uncomfortable metal stool and with your rucksack clasped firmly between your ankles, you'd discreetly try to shield your login details, all the while keeping an eye out for the dodgy-looking teen unashamedly appraising the contents of your bag.

Inevitably, your allocated 15 minutes would be spent trying to log in, scrabbling around for more change to prolong your session and being stared out by the next customer.

These days, getting online on the move is a more dignified experience. We can take our own laptops with us and log on quickly and easily to a wireless-enabled hotspot that allows us to establish a secure connection with our work email server. Here's how:

1. When you switch on your wireless laptop in a hotspot area, it should automatically detect any local Wi-Fi networks (if it doesn't, we show how to troubleshoot in steps 4 to 6, below). The wireless icon in your toolbar will display a small pop-up window. Click 'Connect to a network'.

step1

Step 1

2. The dialog box that appears should display a list of networks that are available in your area, along with information about security and the signal strength. If it isn't displaying any Wi-Fi networks, check that the drop-down list at the top is set to All. Select one of the networks and click Connect.

step2

Step 2

3. If the network isn't protected, you should be able to start browsing the web and using email immediately. However, if security is enabled on the account you'll have to enter a username and password. Once you've entered these details, your internet browser should connect immediately.

step3

Step 3

4. If a connection pop-up isn't displayed automatically, you can still connect via the Network and Sharing Center, which is accessed from Vista's Control Panel. From the options on display, click Connect to a Network, Connect to the Internet. Clicking Next will start up the Connection Wizard.

step4

Step 4

5. You'll now be asked how you want to connect to the web. If your Wi-Fi hardware is enabled you'll be given the option to connect wirelessly. Select this to continue. However, on some laptops you may need to activate the Wi-Fi hardware via a button or your keyboard - the laptop will switch it off to conserve battery life.

step5

Step 5

6. The Connection Wizard will then test your connection while it obtains an IP address. You can skip this step. If you have problems getting online at any point, select Diagnose and Repair in the Network and Sharing Center. This will run through some tests to identify the connection problem.

step6

Step 6

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Jason Whittaker

PC Advisor (UK)
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