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February 16, 2005

Network Ad Lib – Wi-Fi and 1xEVDO

When we first moved to our house in rural Vermont, we couldn’t get broadband access in any of the ways we are used to.  Our house is behind a SLIC so no DSL.  We are a $15,000 construction project away from having cable and are happy to use satellite as far as entertainment is concerned.  We looked into satellite Internet access but it is expensive, has bad latency because the signal has to go to the satellite and back, has very slow upload speeds, and requires a year commitment.  We do have good hopes for another broadband solution, which I’ll blog about if it happens, but meanwhile didn’t want to settle for dialup.

I have a Verizon Wireless PC 5220 1xEVDO card for my laptop.  I bought it for use on trains (it does work) and in cities where there’s no hot spot I can get into with Wi-Fi.  In fact, wherever Verizon has coverage, it’s generally better quality and always less hassle than dialup.  In many major US cities, it now provides true broadband at over 1meg.  In other places it’s catch as catch can but usually at least the equivalent of a 56KB modem and often better.  For reasons I explained in my post about subscription pricing, I have an unlimited-usage  $79.99 ($80.04 with tax) account.  Some months when I didn’t use it much, I questioned whether it was worth it.

Until I got to Vermont!

Turns out that my desk must have a good view of a Verizon tower equipped to provide 1xEVDO.  I generally get three out of four bars, sometimes just two.  So I have at least 56KB service.  Since a persistent connection is at least as important to me as bandwidth, this meets a big part of my need.

But Mary needs access as well.  Another $80 account seems pretty extravagant and her desk doesn’t see the tower well enough anyway.  Wi-Fi to the rescue.

Both our laptops, which are also our desk computers, have Wi-Fi 802.11b/g built in. I set them both to participate in an “ad hoc” rather than “infrastructure” Wi-Fi network, something I’ve never done before.  Ad hoc means that they talk to each other peer-to-peer rather than requiring a Wi-Fi hub or network access device.  Then I went into “properties” for my 1xEVDO connection in Network Connections, clicked on “advanced”, and turned on the check box for modem sharing.

That’s it.  It worked.  We both have Internet access, slow but persistent.  Even the old machine we use as a house computer for guests can join the ad hoc network and get Internet access.  And so can the guests, themselves, if they have Wi-Fi.  Of course, since my computer is the Internet access point, I run a firewall on it.  Actually, I have firewalls activated on the other computers as well just to be safe.

This is hardly the perfect solution.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has a choice.  Among other things, it means that, whenever I want to take my computer somewhere, Mary loses her Internet access.  And if I reboot, she yells. We also can’t hook our Vonage adapters to this. But it’s sure better than the alternative. 

It also suggests a solution to sharing Internet access in a hotel room.  Next time both of us are somewhere with Ethernet ports, I’ll turn modem sharing on and establish the ad hoc Wi-Fi network; I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to use the connection.

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