Going Wireless with Your Tablet PC

Although you can connect through a regular phone line or some method of high-speed access to e-mail and fax from your Tablet PC, you may be less familiar with what's involved in making a wireless connection. Because just about every Tablet PC comes with wireless technology built in, this is something you should know about.

Wireless access to the Internet works by using radio frequencies to connect your Tablet PC or other wireless-enabled device to a wireless network. Some companies provide wireless network services to employees, and you can access a wireless network service from a provider, such as T-Mobile, in public places, such as airports and hotels. By using wireless technology, your Tablet PC can connect to a wireless network through a wireless access point and you can send e-mail messages and faxes as well as surf the Internet for documents and data.

Just like any other Internet service provider, wireless providers charge you a monthly fee; T-Mobile's HotSpot service, for example, costs $39.99 per month at the time of this writing. Many ISPs provide a feature in their browser that alerts you when you're within shouting distance of a wireless network.

Your Tablet PC probably came with built-in wireless capabilities, but if it didn't, you can purchase a wireless adapter and insert it into a PCMCIA (PC card) slot on the tablet. With wireless capability in place, you're ready to connect.

Controlling wireless connections

If you've ever driven through a rural area while trying to talk to your mom on your wireless phone, you may have had your call dropped and found yourself unable to reconnect until you're closer to a bigger city. Heck, you may have experienced this phenomenon in the heart of the biggest city in the world. Depending on your relationship with your mother, this may be a convenience or an inconvenience.

Wireless connections on your Tablet PC have the same degree of flakiness as wireless phone connections. You're more likely to find a wireless access point in highly populated areas, in public places like airports, convention centers, and other locations. These places are called hotspots. Windows XP for Tablet PC is designed to find hotspot connections automatically, but sometimes it needs a little help.

Click here for a list of hotspots around the world.

The following sections show you how to find a wireless access point.

Setting up your wireless adapter and finding access points

To set yourself up for wireless connections, you have to first have a wireless adapter in the form of a PC Card Check. Now you have to set up the adapter so that it, uh, adapts:

1. Insert the adapter into the PC card slot on your Tablet PC.

The Wireless Configuration wizard appears automatically as soon as you insert the card.

2. Run through the wizard, making settings appropriate to your location and connection, and tapping Next until you reach the end of the process.

A final wizard window appears, letting you know that if you tap the Finish button (aptly named) the installation is complete.

3. Tap the Finish button.

After you've done so, Windows XP starts looking around for access points automatically.

When you complete the adapter installation, Windows pops up a dialog box showing the available wireless networks. Follow these steps to let Windows start searching for access points.

1. Tap the name of the network you want to use and then tap Connect.

Alternatively, you can choose Programs --> Control Panel --> Network Connection, and then tap the Wireless connection option. This technique is especially useful if you want to create your document first and connect when the document is ready; you can come back anytime to this connection window.

2. When the connection is completed, you're online. Go ahead and browse, e-mail, or whatever.

If you see no options in the dialog box in Step 1, that means Windows XP is coming up empty trying to find a wireless access point. Tap the Cancel button, cool down, and read the following section.

Adding access points manually

Tablet PC may not find any access points. If that happens, the next step is to set an access point manually. Follow these steps:

1. Choose Start --> Control Panel.

The control panel appears.

2. Double-tap the Network Connections icon in the control panel.

Various network connections appear.

3. Right-tap the Wireless Network Connection item and choose Properties.

The Properties dialog box appears.

4. Tap the Wireless Networks tab.

5. Tap on an available network in the list and tap Configure.

The Wireless Network Properties dialog box appears.

6. In the Wireless Network Properties dialog box, enter a wireless network key setting.

You have to get this key setting from your network administrator or the manufacturer of your wireless adapter.

7. Tap OK in the Wireless Network Properties dialog box.

8. Tap OK again in the Wireless Connection dialog box.

Doing so completes the connection process.

If a wireless network doesn't make its network name available, you won't see it listed in the Available Networks list mentioned in the previous steps. In that case, you can add a preferred network (the wireless network that will be used by default), specifying the network name, also referred to as a Service Set Identifier, or SSID. You have to get the SSID from the folks at the network provider to which you pay that monthly fee.

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