How to turn your netbook into a 3G mobile broadband WiFi hotspot
Netbooks are very useful devices, not just for web surfing and looking at your email for for all sorts of different purposes, some more obvious than others. These devices are all about mobility, but while you are out and about there could be situations where setting up a wireless network to connect a group of machines might be handy and of course Internet access makes this even more useful. Maybe you have a device you would like to use with the Internet while you are away, but it only has WiFi connection (e.g. some portable media players like the iPod Touch) and you cannot plug your 3G mobile broadband modem into it. As long as you have 3G coverage you can have a WiFi hotspot wherever you go, and you don't need to bring a dedicated router as a netbook powered by Ubuntu (or Easy Peasy) can easily fulfill this function.
Setting up your mobile WiFi hotspot ("MiFi"?) is quite straightforward when you use Network Manager, there is no need for any shell commands. Just do the following:
- Connect to your mobile broadband service as usual (select the entry by clicking on the Network Manager icon on the top right of your screen.
- Click on the Network Manager icon again and select Create New Wireless Network.
- A dialogue box will appear prompting you for information for your new network:
- In the box next to Network Name type in a short recognisable name for your new WiFi network, this will be shown in the list of available wireless networks on other computers for them to join.
- In Network Security select WEP 128-bit passphrase and enter a password longer than eight characters. Remember this as other computers will need it to connect to your new wireless network.
- Click Create and your new wireless network will spring into life. The computer will now act as a router for other computers that connect to it and will route requests for an internet site through your mobile broadband modem. You can continue to use the netbook as normal as well.
The security step above is really important. If you do not set up security any passer by could connect to your new WiFi hotspot and steal your data allowance. This could work out to be very costly on a mobile broadband tariff. It is also worth remembering too that the more computers you have on your network the more of your data allowance will get used up, so make allowances and upgrade price plan if need be. I couldn't get the WPA2 method of security to work over this type of connection. Despite being able to set it up with this I found I couldn't connect machines to it, so it had to be WEP as the security method, which is not as desirable but much better than nothing.
Stopping the new ad-hoc WiFi network is a little clumsy as the network manager doesn't have a "disconnect" option for WiFi networks, so what you will have to do it either: connect to a different wireless network or follow these steps:
- Right click over the Network Manager icon (near the clock) and untick Enable Wireless
- Right click over the Network Manager icon again and select Edit Connections
- Click on the Wireless tab, select the network you set up and:
- If you do not wish to use the connection again click Delete
- If you want to reuse the connection again, click Edit and untick the box that says Connect automatically and click Apply
- Close the Network Connections window
- Right click over the Network Manager icon (near the clock) and this time tick Enable Wireless
- The WiFi network you created should not now be reactivated.
I tested the method above with my Asus EEE PC 701 and a Huawei E169G dongle from 3, and successfully connected another computer through it and viewed web sites through my mobile broadband connection. Other equipment should work too. I don't know what range (how far you could be away from the EEE to get a signal) you would get, I connected to it over a distance of only a few feet. There are all sorts of uses for this technique though, so if you do make use of it then please tell your story in the comments.