Wireless Internet for Your Laptop
In the early days of mobile computing, laptops required additional external hardware to connect to a wireless network. Nowadays, any laptop you buy will be wireless ready as soon as you get it. However, just being able to connect to Wi-Fi doesn’t necessarily mean you can access any network.
Mobile Broadband Laptops vs. Wi-Fi Laptops
It’s important to understand the distinction between a Wi-Fi ready laptop, and one that is able to access mobile broadband. With 3G and 4G networks constantly expanding, many brand new laptops have the mobile technology to connect to them. Otherwise, you’ll need a mobile hotspot or similar device to connect to those networks. In either case, you’ll need to sign up for a mobile internet service plan to take advantage of those capabilities.
If you have a mobile broadband ready laptop, but don’t think you’ll use its wireless capabilities often, some carriers offer pay-as-you-go or even pre-paid mobile broadband access.
Does your laptop have built-in Wi-Fi capability?
If you bought it within the past six or seven years, it probably does. Very few modern laptops require external hardware to connect to a Wi-Fi signal.
If you’re still not sure, here’s an easy test you can do to see if it can pick up Wi-Fi signals:
Go to a nearby coffee shop or bookstore (or really any location that advertises its “Free Wi-Fi”), and start your laptop. PC users will see the wireless signal scanning icon in the bottom right corner of the task bar. For Mac users, it will be in the top right. Your laptop should automatically scan for networks (note: some laptops have physical Wi-Fi switches, if yours has one, make sure it’s switched to the on position). If it scans and you see a list of networks available, your laptop is Wi-Fi ready!
Things to consider about wireless internet on your new laptop
How will I use this laptop?
If your laptop will only be for home use, a mobile broadband connection may not be important to you. You’ll more than likely be able to connect wirelessly to your home Internet service, leaving any mobile data plan you purchase largely unused.
On the flip side, if you’ll constantly be taking your laptop on the road, working in new places, or are simply always on the move, it could be smart to look into a mobile plan. In that event, be sure to look around at some different wireless Internet providers to find a good plan for you.
What other wireless internet devices do I have?
Between cell phones, laptops, and tablets, some people have as many as three devices with mobile broadband capability. If you’re one of those people, you should assess how you’re using each of these devices. If you can easily send and receive emails from your tablet on the road, you may not need your laptop to serve a similar function.
If you do want your laptop to connect to 3G and 4G networks, look for service plans that let you share data among multiple devices, or personal hotspots that let you connect several devices at once.