Laptops like my Lenovo ThinkPad have pretty good built-in wireless capabilities, but the antenna system puts a limit on distance.
I solved that problem by getting better range -- and faster connectivity -- with a Wi-Fi receiver/antenna system called Wi-Fire. Made by hField Technologies, Wi-Fire works very well indeed. Here it is connected to my Thinkpad.
Wi-Fire is an external directional Wi-Fi receiver and antenna that connects through USB. It extends the useful Wi-Fi range considerably. According the materials, it'll work at ranges up to 1,000 feet. I haven’'t tried that, but it definitely added at least a hundred feet to my local Wi-Fi range.
At first, I was a bit concerned about installing it with the ThinkPad. The ThinkPad has its own Wi-Fi management system, which sometimes argues with the Windows 7 Wi-Fi management system. I thought adding yet another system might be a problem. It wasn't, as it turned out, and there's a story I have about that.
First, I unplugged the Ethernet connector from my ThinkPad and connected to my local Wi-Fi net with the ThinkPad’s wireless. When that was working properly, I turned off ThinkPad Wi-Fi. Then I let the Wi-Fire software disk auto-run to install Wi-Fire. When that was done, I plugged the Wi-Fire antenna in.
Getting it to run was tricky: clicking and doubleclicking the Wi-Fire icon did essentially nothing. Eventually, I did a right click on the Wi-Fire icon -- and I saw a menu that included the option to Run as Administrator. That did it.
Suddenly, the system showed me an astonishingly large list of potential Wi-Fi sites, most of which I never knew existed. One was my own. Telling Wi-Fire to connect to that resulted in a demand for the password. Seconds later I was connected. I tested it out with Firefox. Everything ran fast and well.
Just to be sure, I closed the Wi-Fire software and turned on the ThinkPad’s wireless. That worked as expected, too. It turned out the ThinkPad doesn’t care if there's a Wi-Fire so long as you're not actually running its software.
Wi-Fire does pretty well at what it's designed to do: it makes good connections to Wi-Fi networks that would otherwise be out of range entirely and improves connection speed with marginal Wi-Fi locations. It works with Windows, the Mac and various forms of Linux.
If you use Wi-Fi out on the road, Wi-Fire is a good tool to have in your road warrior kit. It doesn't cost too much -- under $50 -- and except for my initial installation issues, I think it works great. I recommend it.
Jerry Pournelle is BYTE's senior technologist. An award-winning novelist and columnist, he's now back at BYTE with Computing at Chaos Manor. Find more of Jerry's stuff at www.jerrypournelle.com. Email him a question or comment at Jerry@BYTE.com.