Many of us whizz away on holiday, carrying a plethora of electronics. Sadly, on arrival you may find that your cousin cancelled the cable service, storms downed your DSL, or your mobile’s coverage vanished into a black hole. What can you do? Before leaving home, plan for the worst.

Use Your iPhone or iPad as a Personal Hotspot

The best mobile modem is the one you have with you. As you’re an iPad & iPhone User reader, you probably own an iPhone, which has included a software-based Personal Hotspot since iOS 4. Apple added this feature to the third-generation iPad model, allowing you to share up to five devices, such as another iPad, over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Use this to turn your iPhone into a modem through a process called tethering. Plug a laptop into your handset’s dock connector via USB to access the internet. You can also use the iPhone’s internet access by connecting to it through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

Tethering isn’t a cheap option, but it’s not prohibitively expensive, either. Most UK providers have their own tethering or mobile hotspot plans for any phone that can manage it. The iPhone 3GS can only tether via USB and share over Bluetooth. The iPhone 4 and 4S can use those methods plus Wi-Fi.

Once you’ve told your provider that you want to use tethering, it’s easy to turn on. Simply go to Settings > General > Network > Personal Hotspot. When your iPad, for example, is being used as a hotspot, its status bar will turn blue and display how many devices are connected to it. It’s worth noting that while others are using your Personal Hotspot, you won’t be able to connect to the web using Wi-Fi.

Bring a Mobile Router

You can still use mobile broadband without relying on your phone. This is especially useful if you want to provide access to multiple people, such as members of your family, without being tied to any one person’s phone. Mobile routers – the best known of which is the MiFi E586 – relay a data signal over Wi-Fi, creating a portable hotspot. We reviewed 3’s version (bit.ly/HXQzor).

Deal with a Distant Signal

What happens if you’re visiting your parents, who have opted for broadband, but the modem is at one end of the house and your old room is at the other? Or perhaps you’re sleeping in the basement, with wedges of concrete between you and the Wi-Fi router.

Bring along a base station The easiest way to deal with a weak broadband signal is to carry along a Wi-Fi base station. Apple offers two options: the AirPort Extreme and the AirPort Express (www.apple.com/uk).

The Extreme offers high speeds and greater range. However, as its £139 price tag shows, it’s designed more for the office or classroom than the home.

If you’re looking for something to have around the house, then Apple’s £79 AirPort Express is very portable, though still a little pricey. Sometimes you can find a refurbished one in the Apple Store (store.apple.com/uk). On a recent check, we found one with a full warranty that cost just £56.  

It’s worth noting that the Express has a single ethernet port, so you’ll probably also need an ethernet switch.
You’ll encounter one of two scenarios. If the broadband modem has a built-in ethernet switch, you can just plug the Wi-Fi base station into one of the ports. If it has only a single LAN ethernet jack, plug an ethernet cable from that jack into your own ethernet switch, and then also plug the base station into your ethernet switch.

Opt for the electrical system But what if the modem is located at the other end of the house and the signal won’t reach? Try powerline networking.

This technology pushes networking over home electrical wiring. Because the signal is carried on a particular power phase, you can only expect outlets that share the same circuit breaker to carry the signal efficiently.

You can connect your laptop to the internet using the iPhone’s Personal Hotspot feature

Outlets on other circuit breakers might work at just a fraction of the maximum speed – megabits per second, rather than hundreds of megabits. But that may still be faster than the broadband connection.

If you have a couple of powerline networking adaptors, you can get fast internet connectivity through the house’s electrical system. You can get older 85Mbps powerline gear for under £30 each – you need a pair. The newest 200Mbps and 500Mbps models are pricier. See our review of the £70 Zyxel PLA4205 500Mbps Powerline Network Adaptor (bit.ly/Jb9akx).

This method requires two adaptors: one plugs in near the modem, where you may need an ethernet switch to connect the modem to the powerline adaptor; while the other goes near your base station elsewhere in the house.

Finally, Relax

One of the joys of travel is supposed to be breaking your routines. It’s true that many employers want you to stay connected even when you’re taking time off, but if you can’t find a path to the internet, take it as a sign – maybe it’s time to hit the off button.

Glenn Fleishman is the author of the e-book ‘Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network’, updated for OS X
Lion (TidBits Publishing, 2011, www.takecontrolbooks.com).