It’s amazing how fast the marketplace can react to change. During our eight-day vacation in Canada we stayed at five different hotels. Every single one of them offered high-speed Internet service. We were connected to the Internet with a fat pipe everywhere we went!
This wasn’t true a few months ago. In a June trip to Raleigh I had to hunt for a hotel that offered high-speed Internet access in the hotel room. I found a few web sites such as this one that helped me find these hotels. As a result the Courtyard North Raleigh got my business. But there was no such access in my room at the four-star Peabody Hotel in Orlando in April, although a cool high-speed wireless service was available in the conference rooms. And the only way I got to the Internet in my hotel room in Denver in March was through a traditional dial up line.
Our electronic life is now too integrated to be away from the Internet for very long. So my wife’s laptop came with us on the trip. A month or so earlier she had installed a wireless network interface card (NIC) in it so she could read her email anywhere in the house. (Curiously she uses it most in the bathroom.) I didn’t think we would have any use for her wireless card on the road. But I was wrong.
A portrait of Internet access at our five hotels:
I booked our room at the Quality Inn in Schenectady specifically because they offered high-speed Internet access. Unfortunately although we brought along the laptop we forgot both an Ethernet cable and phone line cord for the laptop’s modem. But it was no problem: the front desk provided us with a loaner Ethernet cable. Finding the port in our room was the big problem. We eventually discovered it behind one of the beds. Then we had to dig into the Windows 2000 Control Panel and change a few settings. It took about fifteen minutes to work through the logistics.
The Sandman Hotel in Montreal also offered high-speed Internet, but it was pricey: $14.95 a day in Canadian money and the service always started at 3 p.m. We couldn’t resist and they too were glad to loan us a loaner cable. The billing was all handled through the browser. When we opened our browser and tried to reach any page we were first presented with a payment screen. We selected our payment method and were off.
By the time we arrived at the Radisson East in Toronto I figured the gig was up. There were no such ports in our room. However my wife noticed an electronic billboard coming in that proudly announced high-speed wireless Internet service in the conference rooms. Could we pick it up in our room? For the first time in my life I was glad to have a room on the second floor. Her NIC picked up a nice strong signal. Perhaps ethically we shouldn’t have used this connection since we weren’t there on business. To make it work with our wireless card we had to make a couple small changes to our computer again. This time we had to disable a wireless encryption feature. Once done we were off and surfing.
The Quality Inn in Woodstock, Ontario though seemed an unlikely place to find high-speed Internet. It was a couple blocks from a highway and we could see cornfields out of the window. But this was a new hotel and yes they too offered high speed wireless Internet … for $10 CDN a day. We had to call the front desk to get an access code. Again we entered it into the browser’s web page and we were off and surfing.
At the Holiday Inn in Batavia, New York high-speed wireless service was made available to all guests for free. Unfortunately our access was fairly poor. Maybe it was because we were on the fourth floor. The NIC continually sent us messages telling us our connection speed was “low” or “very low”. Every once in a while the signal would drop off altogether. Part of the problem was that the NIC picked up two wireless signals. I don’t know where the other signal came from (another nearby hotel?) But when we told the NIC to ignore the other signal service became more reliable. But the speed always seemed slow and didn’t seem much better than dialup.
In the car my daughter Rosie often was writing with the laptop computer. (We had an adapter for it so it could run off the electrical feed from our cigarette lighter.) What we didn’t expect is how often it would pick up wireless signals when we passed through small towns and cities. Often this connection would last fifteen seconds or less since the range is very limited and we were moving at a brisk clip. But it was encouraging nonetheless. And sometimes we picked up signals in unexpected places, like in front of dirty old garages along distressed looking highways.
So we were very pleased. Here are a few pointers for fellow high-speed travelers. First, make sure your laptop is configured with a wireless NIC and that you know how to modify the NIC’s interface; it can be something of a black art. Certainly bring an Ethernet cable with you too but increasingly you won’t need it or may be able to borrow one at the hotel. Hotels seem to going wireless instead of wired. For a couple years it would be a good idea to have a directory of local phone numbers to access your ISP. But it is clear the days of dialup Internet access are nearly over. Hooray for that. While I suspect you are less likely to find high-speed Internet at Motel 6’s or Days Inn, you can never tell. Increasingly it is becoming pervasive. If you depend on Internet access on the road you may be in for a happy surprise the next time you travel.