Updated: 22 December, 2014
Obtaining a wireless connection on your laptop is fairly easy to do, regardless if your laptop is already equipped with wireless capability or you have an older device that only has Ethernet connectivity.
Wireless Internet is rather easy to achieve on virtually any device regardless of its age. The newer laptops and tablets are designed with wireless capability built into the device which creates more convenience. Regardless of where you take the device, it will always locate a wireless access point where you can connect to the Internet.
In the event you have decided not to part with an older device, you can still achieve wireless connectivity using a variety of strategies. In this article, we will cover wireless Internet connectivity for both newer and older devices in an effort to ensure we cover all bases when it comes to accessing the Internet.
If you already have wireless capability on a newer device, all you need to do is activate it to establish a connection to the nearest wireless access point. If you do not have wireless capability, you can equip your laptop with the technology necessary to access the Internet. This will spare you the hassle of carrying an Ethernet cable with you and help you to avoid wasting time trying to find an Ethernet-enabled (wired) Internet connection.
If you have a relatively new laptop, it will be already configured with wireless technology preinstalled. If you are not sure if the device has wireless capability, you can check with your PC manufacturer or you can check for a wireless connection with a few simple steps.
How to Check Your Laptop for Wireless Capability
If you want to check your laptop for wireless connectivity and you are running the Windows operating system, click on Start or Start Search on the main toolbar and then click Control Panel. In the Control Panel window click on Network Connections. When the new window opens, look for LAN (Local Area Network) or High-Speed Internet. Under this category look for Wireless Network Connection and then right click on the icon.
When the submenu is displayed, click on View Available Wireless Networks to open the Wireless Network Connection window. Choose the wireless network that you want to connect to and then tick the box next to Allow me to connect to the selected wireless network. You should receive a confirmation on your PC screen that says you are connected to the network.
When you open your browser to browse the Internet, you may be prompted for a password if the network is secured. If it is an open public access network, you should see the home page of your browser appear immediately after opening the browser application and a password will not be necessary.
How to Add Wireless Internet to a Laptop That Lacks Capability
Before you add wireless capability to your laptop, it is important to note that there is a transmission protocol that is used for Internet connectivity. The protocol is 802.11 b/g/n which is utilized by most public Internet connection hotspots.
The newest form is 802.11ac and if you happen to encounter a public hotspot with a router that uses 802.11ac, you can still obtain a connection with 802.11n since 802.11ac is backwards compatible with the older standards of 802.11n. That said, to add wireless capability you must use a wireless card which is available at your computer electronics retailer or a device provided by your wireless carrier.
To add wireless Internet to a laptop that lacks capability, you will need a PCMCIA card which is a card that is designed for adding wireless connectivity to your device. It is also necessary to determine whether or not your PC is equipped with an express card slot, PCMCIA slot, or both types of slots.
You can check this by looking it up in your PC owner’s manual or by going to your PC manufacturer’s website and looking up the model number of your PC. Once you determine the type of slot you have on your device, all you have to do is purchase the appropriate card then perform the following steps:
- Shut Down Your PC: Shut down your PC completely and then unplug the power supply. Place a pair of rubber wrist bands on your wrists. These are also known as an anti-static band and they protect your PC from any type of static electricity you may inadvertently transfer to your PC which could cause damage.
- Remove the Back Panel: Use a screwdriver to remove the back panel from your laptop and look for a PCI slot that is empty and does not contain a card. The PCI slot is a rectangular shaped slot. Simply insert the PCMCIA card into the empty slot. Use care when you insert the card so you do not accidentally bend any of the circuits. Once the card is in the slot, use caution and press on it gently to snap it into place.
- Replace the Panel and Restart: Replace the back panel of your laptop, plug in the power supply and then start up the computer. As your PC restarts, it should automatically recognize the hardware. At this point it may be necessary to insert the CD that came with the PCMCIA card. Once you insert the CD you will be walked through the process of installing the drivers and the software that is required to establish wireless Internet connectivity.
If there is no CD with the card, you can connect your laptop to the Internet using an Ethernet cable. When you insert the card into the PCI slot and start the computer, it will recognize the card and ask you if you want the program to search the Internet for the appropriate driver and software.
Once installation is complete, you may be prompted to choose a network connection from the list. In this case, you can choose the connection that is appropriate for your current location (i.e. home, work, public access, etc.). If everything has been installed properly, you should be able to open your browser and connect to the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot.
The following video provides a visual demonstration on how to equip an older laptop with wireless capability.
How to Get Wireless Internet on Newer Laptop Devices
If you have a newer laptop that has been purchased within the last few years, your device will have wireless technology preinstalled. In this case, your device will automatically locate and connect to the nearest wireless network, provided a password is not required.
The wireless technology that is built into your laptop is designed to detect networks without having to worry about installing additional technology. However, if you are having difficulty connecting to a wireless Internet connection, it is important to check your device to ensure the wireless network capability is enabled. This is especially true if your laptop is brand new and you are setting it up for the first time.
First, most laptops have a button located on the side of the device that allows you to turn the wireless connection on and off. If you have been using your laptop for a period of time and you are unable to connect to wireless Internet, check to make sure the button is switched to the On position. Sometimes through normal laptop use, the button can get accidentally switched to the Off position which will prevent you from establishing a wireless Internet connection.
If your laptop is brand new, begin by checking the side of your device to ensure the wireless switch is turned to the On position before proceeding to activate the wireless technology in the Control Panel.
If you are using a Windows 8 laptop, navigate to the toolbar on the right hand side of the screen. This toolbar is accessed by moving your cursor to the right hand side of the screen or by swiping your finger from the right hand side of the screen and to the left.
Once you can see the toolbar, click or tap on Settings and choose Wireless from the menu. Make sure the Wi-Fi setting is switched to the On position. This will activate the built-in wireless technology.
When you open your browser you should be able to automatically connect to the Internet. Or, if the connection is secure, you will be prompted to enter a password to establish the connection.
The following video provides a visual demonstration on how to enable wireless Internet on a laptop PC. There is no sound on this video but, it will provide you with a clearly understandable visual representation on how to perform this step.
Using a Mobile Hotspot
Even if your laptop PC is equipped with wireless capability, there may be times when you may need to access Wi-Fi using a service provided by your cell phone wireless carrier. This is often the case when you are traveling in areas where wireless access is spotty or provides a slow connection.
Wireless Internet service from your carrier will provide you with access to high speed Internet in any location that provides coverage from the specific carrier. A mobile hotspot is also known as MiFi and involves a device such as a wireless Internet card, USB dongle, or PC card that attaches to your laptop PC.
The devices are supplied by a wireless carrier such as T-Mobile or Verizon, and provide you with access to 3G or 4G high speed Internet using a subscription to a data plan. Your carrier will provide you with a few options for a data plan subscription. This allows you to send and receive a specific amount of data as defined in your subscription plan.
For example, if your data plan allows for 5GB of data per month, this allows you to send approximately 150,000 email messages without attachments or about one half that number with email attachments. If you are browsing the Internet, you can visit as many as 30,000 web pages or download up to 5000 songs. Another type of data plan will provide a different amount of access for sending and receiving data.
The data service through your wireless carrier will only allow you to access the Internet using your wireless card. It is possible to share the card with other devices simply by connecting it to the selected device. However, it is important to keep in mind that the wireless card can only be used with one laptop at a time, unless you are carrying a portable router that allows multiple devices within range to connect simultaneously.
Some wireless carriers also provide MiFi connectivity which is a built-in wireless Internet card that allows multiple devices to connect to high speed Internet simultaneously through your carrier. In any case, wireless Internet will work on both Windows-based and Mac laptop PCs.
Connecting to Wireless Internet with Windows 8
If your laptop PC runs on Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, you can connect to wireless Internet using the touchscreen or Desktop interface. If you are using the touchscreen, check to make sure the wireless card is enabled using the instructions provided earlier in this article.
- Open the Charms Menu: Access the Charms Menu by swiping from the right hand side of the screen and then choose Settings from the menu. Tap or click on the wireless network icon that is depicted by a set of signal bars in ascending order. This feature will display all of the wireless networks that are currently within range of your device.
- Choose the Network: Tap or click on the network you want to use and enter your password when prompted. A password is required if the network has been secured. Otherwise, you can simply select the network and connect to the Internet.
- Connect Automatically: If there is a network connection in the list that you frequently use, you can configure your laptop to automatically connect to the network simply by placing a check mark in the box next to Connect Automatically. This will allow you to connect without having to enter the connection information every time you want to use the network.
- Configure Sharing: Windows provides a way to automatically connect to other devices on the network such as your wireless printer or Smart TV. In the home environment, this is okay however, if you are on a public network, it is a good idea to disable sharing to protect your data from unauthorized access.
- Open Your Web Browser: Once you have completed the configuration, open your browser to see if it connects to the home page. If you can connect and visit websites, the connection is configured properly.
The following video will provide you with additional information on this process.
If you are using Desktop mode in Windows 8 or 8.1, press the Windows key or click on the Desktop tile to access the Desktop. Check to make sure your wireless card is enabled and then click on the wireless icon located in the System tray. If you do not see the wireless icon, click on the up arrow to display the hidden icons in the System tray and then select the wireless icon.
Select the wireless network you want to use and enter your password if you are prompted to do so. If the network is unsecured, you can simply connect to the network without entering any further information.
You can also configure the wireless connection to automatically connect to a network you frequently use. This is accomplished as described above by placing a check mark in the box next to Connect Automatically. This saves time entering information each time you want to connect to the network. However, if you have recently changed the password, you will be required to enter the new password in order to establish a connection.
Proceed to configure the Sharing Options as described above and then test the connection by opening your web browser. If you can browse websites, the connection is configured properly.
Connecting to Wireless Internet on a Mac Laptop
If your laptop PC runs on Mac OS X, you can setup wireless Internet by clicking on the wireless icon typically located next to the clock.
Locate the Wireless Network: After you click the wireless icon, select the wireless network you want to use from the list and enter your password if prompted to do so. If the network is unsecured, a password is not necessary. Instead, you should be able to connect to the network simply by clicking on the network name in the list.
The following video will provide you with a general overview of how to get wireless Internet on a Mac laptop PC.
Hopefully, the information in this article will provide you with solid introduction on how to get wireless Internet on your laptop. The methods we have provided in this article are the most common ways to acquire a wireless Internet connection. As you research the topic further, you will find additional connectivity options for getting wireless Internet on a laptop according to your location and the type of technology you are using.