How to Improve a Wi-Fi Connection During Travel

by Aeyne Schriber on January 9, 2010 in Wi-Fi

Updated: July 8, 2014

If you are a frequent traveler, then you know that a high percentage of your communications take place over wireless Internet. In order to function efficiently while on the go, a fast wireless connection is a necessity as opposed to a luxury.

With the increase in mobile workers and business travelers, wireless connectivity has become more of a necessity rather than an occasional luxury or convenience. As new technologies such as tablets and highly capable smartphones are released on the market, many more people are desiring to live the mobile lifestyle.

Business people rely on Wi-Fi during travel to conduct business and stay in touch with their co-workers when away from the office while the average mobile consumer wants to stay in touch with friends and family on the go. As a result, many more public facilities are offering Wi-Fi access and many mobile broadband providers are coming up with new and innovative ways to keep consumers connected.

The downside to the increased availability of Wi-Fi access is the connection speed will often vary according to your location, objects that may obstruct Wi-Fi signals, the equipment being used to deliver Internet access, and the capability of your device to handle a high speed connection. This adds up to a lot of different factors that must be considered when coming up with ways to improve a wireless connection during travel.

Just because there is widespread Wi-Fi access available, it does not necessarily mean you will receive a strong signal that will allow you to continue to be productive during travel. Often when you are traveling and you access wireless Internet via a public or personal connection, the connection may indicate a specific signal strength and still you cannot download your email, stream video, listen to music, and hold discussions on Skype, or access websites in your browser without disruption. Why does this happen?

First, let’s look at some of the reasons behind a slow or intermittent wireless connection.

Causes of Unreliable Wi-Fi During Travel

In addition to the quality of wireless devices and the technology they use, there are many other factors that can contribute to a slow or intermittent wireless connection.

  • Distance: One of the most common causes of a poor wireless connection is distance. The farther you are from a wireless carrier tower, the more problems you will have achieving a high speed connection. This is because the towers only cover a specified range before the signal becomes weak or non-existent altogether.
  • Router Access: If you are in a room or a public venue with one or more wireless access routers, the chances are very good there are many other users trying to connect to the very same access points as you are. This significantly reduces the available bandwidth and results in a slow or intermittent connection. If you are trying to access the Internet, the problem can also worsen due to the lack of direct access to the wireless access point. Often there are walls, ceilings, other devices that interfere with the connection.
  • Movement During Travel: As you travel in a car, bus, train, or any other type of moving vehicle, you are also moving in and out of range of various tower signals providing access to wireless Internet. This can cause an unstable or slow Wi-Fi connection as you are trying to access the Internet while physically moving from one destination to another.
  • Other Networks: Another cause of a poor wireless connection is interference. Different types of wireless devices feature the capability to transmit and receive signals using multiple channels, despite the fact they may be set to a specific channel by default. This can potentially mean multiple wireless signals operating on different channels within a small area. The end result is interference and a weak wireless connection.
  • Other Devices: There may be other devices within the vicinity where you are traveling. These are devices such as wireless alarms, traffic monitoring equipment, public access points, and more. The devices often operate in the same band frequency as your wireless connection which lowers the signal strength. The same rule applies to microwave equipment which can cause significant interference with wireless connections.
  • Network Traffic: A public wireless network such as those you find in an airport, transportation hub, park, university, or other large public venue is continually being used by many different people simultaneously. Even larger networks have a specified amount of bandwidth and if a large number of bandwidth-intensive applications are being used at the same time, the end result is limited bandwidth for all users and a slow wireless connection.
  • Objects in the Environment: An area that is heavily populated with buildings can cause a slow Wi-Fi connection since the signal is being blocked by the buildings. This means you are trying to access the connection with a building standing in the way which causes the slow connection. The same problem is true in areas that are dense with trees or high mountains. Depending upon where the tower is, this can cause a slow or intermittent Wi-Fi connection.
  • Your Device: If the Wi-Fi connection is slow or intermittent, the root of the cause may be with your device. In this case, there are a number of troubleshooting steps you can take, to improve a Wi-Fi connection while you are traveling. The specific troubleshooting steps will depend upon the type of device you are using, as well as the operating system you have installed.

These are a few of the causes of a slow Wi-Fi connection when you are traveling. Now we will look at some of the ways you can improve a Wi-Fi connection during travel.

Ways to Improve Wi-Fi During Travel

If an unreliable wireless connection is continually one of the frustrating aspects of traveling on business or pleasure, there are several ways you can proactively improve access to wireless Internet regardless of where you are.

  • Use a Wireless Network Locator: You can find out exactly where a wireless access point is by deploying a signal finder. Most computer stores sell signal finders that attach to your keychain and help you to locate the nearest wireless signal. This saves time searching for and locating reliable wireless Internet access.

You can also opt to use software such as NetSpot that allows you to locate wireless networks, as well as analyze the signal strength and overall health of a wireless network. Although the software is commonly used by architects and network designers, it is also available for personal use and can be a valuable tool for finding the best wireless network while you are traveling.   The following video will provide you with a quick overview of how a program such as NetSpot works and how it can be beneficial to you during travel.

  • Invest in a Wi-Fi Antenna Card: Wi-Fi antenna cards can significantly increase the strength of the signal because they are designed to extend the range of a wireless signal. Deploying a Wi-Fi antenna card will act as a connection converter between you and the wireless access point which will help to strengthen the wireless signal during travel.

A Wi-Fi antenna is a device designed to extend wireless capabilities and typically connects to the USB port in your device. In most cases, it can extend the range of a Wi-Fi signal by as much as 300 to 400 feet which may help you to access the Internet even when there are objects standing in the way such as walls and buildings. The higher quality Wi-Fi antennas are capable of maintaining as much as 80 percent or more of the Wi-Fi signal through obstacles.

Additionally, many of the Wi-Fi antennas are compatible with with WPA, WPA2, and WPS encryption and capable of handling the IEEE wireless standards of 802.11 b/g/n. There are many different types of USB antennas to choose from, some of which will provide you with quality Internet access and others that will be just average. Like anything else, you will need to take time to explore this option but, in most cases, you can find an affordable device that will provide you with a quality wireless connection.

  • Connect to an Ethernet Jack: If there is an Ethernet jack available in the public area where you are located, see if there is a way to use your Ethernet cable to plug into the jack. This will help to provide clear access to the public network without all of the traffic interferences associated with the wireless connection. You can often find Ethernet jacks in your hotel room, public access areas, coffee shops, libraries, and airport waiting lounges, to name a few locations.
  • Plug In Your Device: Regardless if you are using a laptop, smartphone, hybrid device, or tablet PC, when your device is running on battery power, this reduces the energy to critical resources which are more than just the screen brightness. When your device is operating on the battery, this can result in less obvious reduced electricity to your wireless card. The wireless card requires a substantial amount of power to run at its maximum potential. You may not notice it when you are near a strong wireless signal but, if you are nearing the outskirts of the signal, turning on the power can make a lot of difference in the performance of Wi-Fi.
  • Use a Wireless Repeater: If you travel a lot, consider carrying a wireless repeater with you. A Wi-Fi repeater is a standalone wireless device that is very portable and is positioned within the range of a wireless signal. It is designed to extend the coverage area for a wireless network. It works by receiving the Wi-Fi signal from the nearest tower or router and then transmits the increased signal to your device.

There are many different types of wireless repeater devices that vary in setup and configuration. However the following video will provide you with a concrete example of how a repeater works and how it can help to boost a wireless signal when you are traveling.

Also, a Wi-Fi repeater is also referred to as a Wi-Fi Range Extender. Here is another example of a very high quality device that is compact and easy to setup.

In some cases, the devices we discussed above can be used with a wireless portable router to increase the speed of a wireless connection. There are a series of different portable wireless routers you can use during travel that are cost effective and ideal for establishing and sharing an Internet connection.

  • Try FasterWifi.net: There are a number of websites cropping up online that provide a way to speed up your wireless connection to any device including iPhones, laptop PCs and tablet devices. A service such as FasterWifi.net will help your wireless speed to become at least 2.5 times stronger than your original connection. This service can be accessed from anywhere in the world. The following short video will provide you with an idea of how it works:

  • Use a Tri-Band Signal Booster Kit: A Tri-Band Signal Booster Kit is an FCC-compliant cell phone amplifier kit that can be used to strengthen Wi-Fi signals from 3G and 4G wireless carriers. This type of device has three different bands which makes it capable of covering all of the major wireless carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and others. The kit offers an adjustable gain control that uses dials to adjust the device to the appropriate band.

A Tri-Band Signal Booster Kit is easy to setup and uses an omni-directional antenna capable of receiving signals from multiple directions. The kit can be rather pricey at $800 but is capable of creating larger coverage for receiving a strong 3G or 4G wireless signal.

These are a few of the ways you can improve a Wi-Fi connection during travel. As the demand for Wi-Fi increases, this will hopefully bring more wireless Internet access to more parts of the globe. More Wi-Fi access means stronger and more reliable connections as more of the underserved areas become equipped with high speed broadband Internet. This should reduce some of the hassles associated with circumventing weak Wi-Fi signals. In the meantime, you can consider some of the strategies we mentioned in this article to improve the strength of your Wi-Fi signal during travel.

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