Friday, April 29, 2016

Sharing a Wifi Signal, Making Your PC into a Wifi Hotspot

Update 5-13-16:
I bought a $19 Edimax BR-6258nL travel router.  To frequent flyers and others who have been doing research on WISP routers and whether a WISP router can indeed work with a wifi hotspot that requires a login page -- YES INDEED, this travel router works just fine. 

I am loving it, and I have to say, Comcast and their wide network of Xfinity hotspots.  I am at my summer house in Washington State, and one of the things I did after the first year of ownership here, was to cancel my Comcast service, which supplied my internet and TV. 

It's been an education, and interesting to get by without paying Comcast $80 per month (which I only used when I was at our summer house, which is sometimes not very often).  I get high-def TV using an antenna (thanks to the great site) but the far-away stations get lost at low tide.  That's OK.  Internet access has been more of a problem; in past years, I've used an iPad with Verizon cellular data access here, which can get expensive.

Because I am a Comcast subscriber at my other house, however, I am able to log in and use Comcast's many Xfinity hotspots, which really are nearly everywhere.  At my house, I get an Xfinity wifi signal, but using it requires logging in to the hotspot through a login page.  My iPad and smartphones for some reason were not able to log in.

I describe, below, using a Windows laptop to log into a wifi hotspot that requires logging in -- and then becoming a wifi hotspot itself.  However, the Edimax BR-6258nL travel router does this too, and it is does it all much better, far more consistently, with far faster data speeds, than the Windows laptop. This is called "WISP" mode -- and it does this: borrows existing wireless Internet and broadcasts it using a different network name(SSID) and password. 

I've now had two days of near-continuous internet access through what used to be a very spotty Xfinity connection.  The Edimax travel router picks up the Xfinity hotspot signal easily, and it rebroadcasts it as a traditional wifi hotspot with an SSID and password (not requiring a login page). 

The initial setup was a bit tricky.  Thanks to the always useful flyertalk forums for hints that this would work, and in particular, thanks to Colin Robinson and the following web page for showing the process of setting up this router step-by-step:

I got stuck on the last steps of setting up the Edimax router, and here's the solutions provided by the above website:

6. Click on the wireless network you want to connect to. If the connection is encrypted, enter the encryption password in the field below the SSID name. Then click next
7. Wait a few seconds again, then on the next screen click on Setup Internet Automatically.
 8. Since most public WiFi-Hotspots are assign IP address dynamically, make sure you have Dynamic IP selected on the next screen, then click on next.
9. On the next screen, for public WiFi-Hotspots there’s no need to enter or change any of the settings. Just click on the apply button at the bottom of the screen.
10. If all is well, the next screen will display “Congratulations! Your devise is established” just click on the “I want to surf the internet now” button. Your web browser will now automatically redirect to your default home page or to the Hotspot logon page. 

On clicking on “I want to surf the internet now” button, you maybe redirected to a Hotspot logon page.  Double check your laptops wireless connection to make sure you’re still connected to the EdiMax travel router and it did not directly connect to the hotspot.  If you are still connected to the EdiMax travel router, logon to the wireless hotspot in the normal way.  

Your EdiMax travel router is now connected to the Hotspot and you can share your Internet connection through its own wireless signal with other devices .  Just connect these devices to the EdiMax to share the internet connection. 


I travel a lot, so getting the internet when I am traveling is an obsession. 

There are many ways to get the internet when traveling.  I've been using an iPad 3 with Verizon data, and the iPad can be turned into a wifi hotspot.  I have cell phones with Sprint and other networks, and those cell phones can be turned into wifi hotspots.  The only problem is that getting data this way can be expensive, especially if you forget about turning off automatic updates on your laptop.  Those updates can suck up 500 Mb of data instantly and without you knowing it -- costing you half a month's allotment of data, costing anywhere from $15 to $30 and even more. 

Macs have a way to share an internet signal that lots of folks know about.  If a Mac is getting the internet through a wired Ethernet cable, then it is fairly easy to turn that Mac into a wifi hotspot.  Go to System Preferences --> Sharing, and click on Internet Sharing.  Unfortunately, with a Mac, if you are getting the internet through Mac's wifi card, then you cannot also share that wifi signal.  In another writer's words: The one big limitation is that you can’t both be connected to a Wi-Fi network and host a Wi-Fi network at the same time.

Here's a scenario.  You are in a hotel, and the hotel allows you to use the wifi in your room, but you are only allowed to log in for one device.  You have three devices that need internet data -- your MacBook, your smartphone, and your iPad.  What to do? 

You could get the wifi signal through your MacBook, and then share that internet connection through the MacBook's Bluetooth connection, to other devices.  I've spent hours attempting to do this with no luck -- with a couple of Android phones and an iPad 3. 

Sharing Bluetooth on a Mac -- this NEVER worked for me

If you have a Windows laptop, however, you CAN receive wifi on it and then share that wifi signal!  Again, from another writer: Windows has a useful feature that allows you to create a virtual Wi-Fi adapter interface, making it possible to both connect to a Wi-Fi network and create a Wi-Fi hotspot using the same physical network interface at the same time. This feature is hidden, but you can access it using the Virtual Router software — this uses the same Windows features as Connectify, a commercial application.

I've downloaded and tested the Windows-compatible application "Virtual Router" which can be found at:

Here's the description:
Virtual Router is a free, open source software based router for PCs running Windows 8, Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2. Using Virtual Router, users can wirelessly share any internet connection (Wifi, LAN, Cable Modem, Dial-up, Cellular, etc.) with any Wifi device (Laptop, Smart Phone, iPod Touch, iPhone, Android Phone, Zune, Netbook, wireless printer, etc.) These devices connect to Virtual Router just like any other access point, and the connection is completely secured using WPA2 (the most secure wireless encryption.)

Virtual Router was amazingly simple and easy to use.  I installed it, it gave a simple window showing the network name, and I entered a password and chose "share wifi signal."  BOOM, the Windows laptop became a wifi hotspot.  I was able to connect my MacBook Pro to this wifi hotspot immediately.  I did have a few problems initially with the MacBook Pro disconnecting from Virtual Router -- but after figuring out the best places to put the two laptops -- the connection has rarely dropped in the past day.  The Windows laptop serving as a wifi hotspot does not transmit too far -- about 20 feet, through a wall. 

However, I've not been able to connect my Android phones to Virtual Router, nor an iPad 3.  I was able to connect the iPad 3 once, after restarting the Windows machine and restarting the Virtual Router software.  However, the connection kept getting dropped for the iPad, whereas the connection remained steady for the MacBook. 

I've therefore tried Connectify, which took a long time to install, and required the Microsoft .Net 4 framework.  I kept getting a fatal installation error, so could not install Connectify. 

I am sure that there are other devices out there that do the same thing, so there's no reason to lug a Windows laptop around, but I have not tried these yet. 

PS I'd like to actually give compliments to Comcast and its Xfinity wifi hotspots, which are all over the place!  If you are an existing Comcast internet customer, then when you drive or travel to other places, you might see Xfinity wifi hotspots.  Just log into those hotspots with your usual Comcast username and password -- and voila! you will be on the internet.  I've been driving around the US quite a bit recently, and I've seen an Xfinity hotspot nearly everywhere that I've been. 

There are also tons of free wifi hotspots around the US.  Examples are McDonald's, Starbucks, and Fred Meyer stores.

PPS There is a product called the Cradlepoint MBR-95 router that I've personally tested and used extensively.  It has a feature called "Wifi as WAN."  This cool router can take a wifi signal from, say, a coffeeshop or another wireless access point, and broadcast that wifi signal over a much larger range.  For instance, I have a Sprint Overdrive Pro wifi hotspot, which takes a Sprint cellular data signal and lets me browse the web on my laptop.  When I am traveling and in one place for a while, I will set up the Sprint hotspot up, and I can roam around a room using that wifi hotspot. However, the range is limited.  The MBR-95 router can take the wifi signal from the Sprint hotspot and then re-broadcast it over a much wider range.  It is a true router, so I am able to plug in devices like security cameras in using Ethernet cables or over wifi.

The Cradlepoint MBR-95 router doesn't seem to work with cell phones that have been set up as wifi hotspots, for some reason.  It also will not work with Comcast's Xfinity hotspots -- because these hotspots require a separate login via a webpage.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Verizon SIM card in iPad Still Works After Ten Months of Inactivity

Back in August 2014, I wrote about a problem that many folks with iPads with Verizon cellular data service had. 

Here's the post:
This was two years ago -- and maybe the problem has been solved. 

Here's the problem:
Many folks bought an iPad 3 or higher, with Verizon service, because Verizon allows folks with iPads to use their iPad as a wifi hotspot at no extra charge. The other promises from Verizon were that you could buy their data for a month at a time, could cancel your account anytime with no penalty, and there would be no activation fees.

You would never think to ask that if you chose not to use Verizon data on your iPad for a few months, that Verizon would inactivate (“burn”) your SIM card and then refuse to give you a new card unless you paid for it (and got involved in other costly complications, such as being forced to enroll in a postpaid plan that involves a two-year commitment, charges activation fees, etc).

That was two years I discovered that perhaps this is no longer a problem. 

Perhaps Verizon has fixed this problem in a bid to be more customer-friendly.  Today I tried starting up my iPad 3 with a Verizon SIM card that I had not used for 10 months or so.  I fully expected that the SIM card would be burned.  Instead, when I went to Settings-->Cellular Data and View Account, I was taken to a page that offered me a free 500Mb trial of Verizon cellular data for my Ipad.  I clicked through, and received the free trial as per this screen.  Verizon did not even ask for a credit card.  Wow.  Perhaps enough folks have complained to Verizon about the problem described here that they fixed the problem.  Maybe Verizon has lost enough customers and is finally starting to be nicer to their customers.  One can only hope. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

AT&T Customer Survey Hell: Please Take a Survey to Tell Us Why You Won't Take Our Survey

Switched to AT&T U-Verse -- and Barraged by Spam and Marketing Calls and Emails!  ARRGH!!!

I decided to lower my bills for my landline phone and internet service.  I have had a copper landline for 20 years with AT&T, and the bill kept going up and up for basic limited service.  It started at about $10 and was now $35 per month with all the taxes and dubious fees.

I have had internet with Comcast, and they kept raising the price on me also.  So I decided to switch to AT&T U-Verse service for my phone and internet.  I could no longer get DSL from AT&T, and after research, it was apparent that once I cancelled my copper landline service from AT&T, I would never get it back.  But it was time.

I called, and I got U-Verse phone and internet service for a bargain rate for the next 12 months.  The technician came out to our house and strung in a new line, and was very professional.  I was able to get the internet and phone up and running the same day, and the entire process took just a couple of hours.   Now I have to rent a special AT&T modem, rather than being able to use a cable or DSL modem that I can buy from Fry's or Amazon -- which sucks.  But I'll just switch back to Comcast in a year. 

Unfortunately, AT&T has since barraged me with marketing emails and calls from both their marketing departments AND given out my new phone number to spam callers like cruise companies.  Before the installation day, we got about six calls from AT&T telling us to put the installation day and time in our calendar.  After getting the new phone service, I had to go onto my AT&T account page and block a bunch of AT&T marketing numbers from calling.  The phone was ringing and ringing until I learned to block all the AT&T marketing calls.  What a hassle.

Now AT&T is deluging my email inbox with marketing emails and requests for me to take a survey.  I HATE SURVEYS.  Hey big companies: it's not difficult to find out what your customers think of you -- just look at some forums.  Don't bother your customers endlessly with surveys -- it's pretty easy to figure out what good, professional, efficient customer service is.   Too bad AT&T is synonymous with BAD customer service.  Some companies just can't figure it out. 

Here's the email I got from AT&T today.  Their reply when I unsubscribed is so outrageous and ridiculous that I actually laughed.  Take a look.

Here's the email:

So I clicked unsubscribe in the email.  This took me to a web page where I was asked if I was sure that I wanted to unsubscribe.  When I said yes, a web page popped up -- asking me to participate in a survey as to why I wanted to unsubscribe from their survey!  Jesus -- when will this end?!!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Using an AT&T GoPhone in Mexico; Cenotes, Getting Around Tulum, Isla Mujeres, and Cancun

I wrote this while on the last leg of a fairly long trip to the Cancun/Isla Mujeres/Tulum area.  Here are a few things I've learned that will hopefully help others. 

1.  Cancun airport is the main airport.  United has a nonstop flight from SFO to Cancun that takes only about 5.5 hours!  It's therefore a pretty easy destination to fly to, from anywhere in the US.  A friend in Fort Lauderdale said it was only a 2 hour flight. 

(Cancun Airport tip: It's a big airport.  Don't eat at Bubba Gump's -- it was the worst food that I had on the whole trip and the service was terrible.  The food was all fried and obviously frozen, then likely baked.  The french fries were like cardboard.)

2.  I brought an AT&T GoPhone with me and it actually worked.  This is an AT&T prepaid phone.  It costs 25 cents per minute for voice and texts.  I already had $35 on the phone so bringing it to Mexico made me more appreciative of this phone service.  It took me a while to figure out the below, so if you have a GoPhone and are going to Mexico -- take note. 

a.  Calling back to a US phone (or Google Voice) when you are in Cancun:

from a forum: To place international calls from Mexico or Canada, you will need to use the international number format plus sign followed by the country code and the phone number. The plus sign can be accessed from most GSM phones by holding down the 0 key. For example, to call the U.S., whose country code is 1, dial +1, then the area code and phone number.

This worked fine for me.  Just dial "+", the area code, and the phone number.  It worked for a Google Voice number, but not a landline. 

b.  Texting to a US cell phone: just text to area code and phone number.  No plus signs or "1-s" at the beginning seem to be needed. 

c.  Texting to a person with a US cell phone, who is in Mexico: same as b. 

d.  Calling someone in Mexico who has a Mexican landline or cell phone: when I was in Mexico, I did not need to enter any country code.  To dial a landline or cell phone, I dialed the following: (984) 115 dddd (where d is a digit).  This worked most of the time.

Here are some examples:
A friend who picked me up at the airport had a standard AT&T cell phone, not a GoPhone.  Texting to him worked easily -- I just entered his area code and phone number.  However, I could not reach him by voice. 
I could text to my wife, who has a Google Volice number.  I just entered "+" and then the area code and phone number. 

3.  The cenote snorkeling and diving is fantastic, out-of-this-world.  I could spend weeks exploring these underground rivers, which open up at certain spots into the world's most beautiful swimming holes.  Snorkelers can have a great time exploring these cenotes.  Divers can follow guides deeper into the cenotes. 

My favorites were Car Wash, which had tons of native tropical fish swimming around (but was otherwise roped off to help preserve the beautiful lily pads); Tajma Hal which featured many openings that let the sun's rays in; and Casa Cenote, which consisted of perfect mangroves, tons of mosquitofish and larger fish -- and flowed out to the ocean.  My least favorite cenotes were the ones that had been over-developed and felt like Disneyland.  I really disliked The Pit, where a guy sat there and kept pestering us for more and more money:  "Did you pay at the entrance?  Oh, but you need to pay if you are bringing a camera into the water.  The Pit was a cool dive, but super-crowded since it was so small.  "  It's too bad; with few people and minus the money-grubbing attendants, the Pit would be a truly awesome diving experience. 

4.  I stayed in Tulum (and really liked it), which is about a 2 hour drive from the Cancun airport.  A taxi from the airport to Tulum should be about $100; my host Bil Philips at Speleotech arranged a private shuttle for a friend for $90; and he told me that the public buses were not bad at all.  Of course, for a guy like me who has six heavy bags, taking a public bus is not an option. 

5.  I've been in Isla Mujeres before.  Here are some essentials:
a.  Taxi from Cancun Airport to the Ultramar ferry in Puerto Juarez can cost up to $60.  Be patient and hold your ground.  I would offer $30 to $40 and someone will likely accept.  There are two ferries from Cancun to Isla Mujeres.  Take Ultramar.  It's by far the more professional ferry. 

b.  On the way back, when you come off the ferry -- don't haggle with the taxi drivers that are closest to where you get off.  Have the porter take your bags out of that parking structure to the street.  There will be several taxi drivers there, who you can negotiate with.  A fare to the airport should cost between $20 to $40.  I wanted to get to the Marriott on hotel row in Cancun (a fairly long drive).  The guys on the inside wanted $40, the guys on the street wanted $30, and then $20; and I got a nice guy for $15.  I gave him $20 at the end for being a polite person.

c.  I stayed at the JW Marriott in Cancun, which is on the long hotel row strip.  It's not my favorite kind of place to stay.  The hotels are all huge resorts that attempt to hold their guests captive.  I found that a 7-Eleven, McDonald's, and Papa John's Pizza were all within a fairly short walking distance from the JW Marriott. 

The hotel's website states that a taxi from the airport to the hotel costs about $40; but in reality, the concierge told me that taxis from the hotel to the Cancun airport cost about $25.  That's what I agreed with in advance with my taxi driver.