Staying in touch

When out of reach of the office, you sometimes need a little help to keep your laptop connected and powered. We consider the virtues of a mobile wireless access point and a portable charger – two essential tools for working remotely

Wi-Fi is a life-changer for the modern office worker: it provides the ability to move around the building at will, setting down your laptop or tablet any place you choose and turning it into your workstation.

The perimeter of the organisation’s network is of course a limitation, especially for employees who regularly split their time between the office and the road and need to remain online constantly. However, these days there are a number of options for taking wireless access with you as you go.

"A mobile wireless access point is a portable piece of technology that gives you the ability to carry a Wi-Fi connection with you wherever you travel, and it’s accessible by multiple users." 

Portable accessibility

A mobile wireless access point is a portable piece of technology that gives you the ability to carry a Wi-Fi connection with you wherever you travel, which is accessible by multiple users. It will typically be smaller in size than the average network router and will contain features that make it suitable for roaming laptop users.

One of the first such devices was launched by hardware vendor Novatel in 2009 and it was based around what was called MiFi technology (in the UK MiFi is now a brand name owned by the 3 network). With MiFi features, your access point will keep you in touch with a 3G or 4G network – provided one is available – acting like a regular wireless router and giving you a usable internet connection within a range of about ten metres. When in reach of a WiMax network, the device will join you up with a mesh of connectivity extending considerably further that this 10-metre limitation.

Essential features

When choosing your product, make sure it supports the 802.11g Wi-Fi standard, and you should also check it has a network firewall and wireless security features, and the possibility of linking up to a wired Ethernet connection when inside. You need a product that works both as an access point and also as a regular wireless router. When in the field, the access point should be able to share the connection between five or so nominated devices, as assigned by the user of the unit.

You can expect these features from a regular smartphone, provided it comes with the built-in ability to become a portable hotspot. If we take the Samsung Galaxy as an example, this can transform into a private Wi-Fi network with a few simple instructions accessed via the Settings menu. However, the reduced reach means your smartphone should be treated as an emergency measure, rather than a permanent mobile wireless access point.

Going the distance

You may not be looking for full mobility but simply the ability to stretch your office Wi-Fi by a short but crucial extra distance. In this instance a Wi-Fi extender might be the answer. It’s a device that is placed between your main Wi-Fi router and any device that is just a little out of range and it will bridge the two without the requirement of cables.

Portable power

There are plenty of other bugbears for the mobile worker besides drifting out of Wi-Fi range. Perhaps the most notable is when the power in your tablet or smartphone runs low at a crucial time. This is hardly surprising considering the amount of emailing, texting, gaming and internet browsing that many people do on the move and there are a number of portable solutions for this problem that will fit in your computer bag and won’t break the bank.

The ideal solution is an external battery pack, which enables you to charge up any device you plug it into via a simple USB connection. There are a number of models on the market, with the most obvious difference being the amount of power they hold: you should expect between 10,000 and 20,000 amp hours.

A good charger will keep your laptop, netbook, tablet or smartphone operating for hours even if its regular battery is completely out of charge. However, if you spend a little more on a top-of-the-range battery pack, you should be able to charge your phone several times over before the battery itself needs recharging.

These packs have made extreme mobile working a reality, with constant office contact now possible in places where no recharging facilities may exist at all. They should also fit neatly in a pocket so you can still travel light.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK