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How to Share a Hotel Room's Internet Connection Over Wi-Fi

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For years, many hotels around the world have offered high-speed internet access to guests in their rooms by way of a wired connection, whether it be a standard network port in the wall or a cable popping out of the desk. Nowadays, wireless network is the default option but we're often charged to use it. Since many hotels still provide the wired connection option as for free, in this guide I'll explain two methods of sharing this wired connection, allowing you to avoid any expensive Wi-Fi costs.


The Problem

Most hotels have provided a free wired internet connection for many years, and still do. Nowadays, pretty much every laptop, tablet and phone is able to connect via Wi-Fi. Some hotels will provide this service for free but unfortunately, many don't. Instead, they'll charge quite a considerable sum of money for something that is being provided for no cost, through a cable in our room, simply for the luxury of Wi-Fi's convenience.

If a hotel does offer it for free, it's not uncommon to find yourself checking-in to a room that has such a poor wireless signal that accessing the internet is impossible.


The Solution

Many hotels still provide complimentary internet access through a wired connection. Each hotel will likely have a different method of using their wired internet connection but, most of the time, it's simply a case of connecting the ethernet cable to your Mac, open up your internet browser and get started. Some hotels may require you to register or click a "login" button, similar to a Wi-Fi hotspot.

With a little bit of planning we can make use of this wired internet connection and create our own wireless network, freeing ourselves from the shackles of the ethernet cable.


AirPort Express

Apple's AirPort Express base station is a small, inexpensive and easy to configure wireless access point that we can use to create a wireless network. Many of us use these at home or office but due to its portability, they're a firm favourite for the frequent traveller.

The AirPort Express is a very popular portable base station.
The AirPort Express is a very popular portable base station.

Tip: If you're a frequent traveller, I'd recommend having an AirPort Express just for travelling as you'll often be changing the configuration settings.

There are two methods of sharing an internet connection using an AirPort Express:

  • Create a new, self-contained network and share the room's connection, giving the hotel's network the impression their is just one device on the network
  • Turn the AirPort Express into a simple wireless access point, providing a direct connection for each device you'd like to use.

We're going to create a self-contained network so that we have a private network which is then connected using the AirPort Express to the hotel's wired connection. Your AirPort Express would then be assigned an IP address which it will then share to the devices that you connect.

Some hotels will only allow one device connected in each room so if we were to use the second option, each device connected would need an IP address. This means the hotel would identify more than one device and either shut off the connection or, worse, potentially charge you for it.

To best explain it, consider how you connect to the internet at home. Your internet service provider would assign a single IP address to you which your router or cable modem will use, then your router would share that connection to whatever devices you want to use. As far as your ISP is concerned, it only sees one device connected to their service - your router or modem. You could have a hundred devices connected to your network but your ISP would only know of a single connection since your router is sharing that IP address and connection.

This is exactly what we're doing with the hotel connection. The AirPort Express will be given a single IP address which it will share to your other devices.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I'll be using the latest model of the AirPort Express that was released in June 2012.

Step 1

Once you've checked-in to your hotel, the first thing to do is connect the ethernet cable to your AirPort Express. There are two ports that we could connect it to, the WAN port and the LAN port. We want to connect it to the WAN port which is the expected port to use when connecting an external network connection.

The WAN port is denoted by the circular dotted line.
The WAN port is denoted by the circular dotted line.

Once you've plugged the network cable into the WAN port, we can power up the base station.

Step 2

After connecting the cable and powering up the base station, we need to reset it back to factory settings. The reason for this is that we can make sure that whenever we're setting it up, we know that there are no existing settings that could interfere, causing all sorts of issues. We'll do this with a hard reset.

To reset your AirPort Express, use a paperclip, pen or pencil and press & hold the reset button on the rear of the base station until the status light starts to flash. This will only take a few seconds.

The reset button is a recessed, small button that is only accessible via a paperclip or pencil.
The reset button is a recessed, small button that is only accessible via a paperclip or pencil.

Resetting your base station will remove all your settings to the point that it is just like new and we've taken it out of the box for the first time.

Step 3

After a few moments, your base station will have been restarted. Click on the Wi-Fi menu item and you'll notice that your Mac has detected a new AirPort Express base station that needs configuring.

Mac OS X will detect a new AirPort base station and automatically start the setup process.
Mac OS X will detect a new AirPort base station and automatically start the setup process.

Click on the new base station and AirPort Utility will launch automatically, letting us easily set up the base station.

AirPort Utility will prepare the newly reset base station for configuration.
AirPort Utility will prepare the newly reset base station for configuration.

After a few moments, AirPort Utility will ask you to name your base station along with providing a password. This password, used for both the wireless network and to protect the network, is then automatically saved to your Mac's keychain. Make a note of it if you need to use it with another device, such as an iPhone.

You only need to enter a few bits of information to have the base station set up.
You only need to enter a few bits of information to have the base station set up.

Click Next and AirPort Utility will configure the base station and restart it. After it's restarted, your Mac will automatically connect to the new network. That's actually it, you've now configured your base station!

Finally, once your base station has restarted, a green light will denote a working internet connection. You can also open AirPort Utility again to ensure it is definitely connected and any warnings or errors will appear with a badge.

Any errors or messages will be displayed with a badge. Here, my base station is alerting me to an update that's available.
Any errors or messages will be displayed with a badge. Here, my base station is alerting me to an update that's available.

Your Mac will then be able to browse the internet wirelessly and any additional devices, such as iPads and iPhones, will also be able to connect.


Internet Sharing

Having a spare AirPort Express is all well and good, but if we don't have one to hand, that doesn't mean we can't share our connection wirelessly.

Mac OS X has included a feature called Internet Sharing for quite some time and it's a perfect way to mimic the abilities of an AirPort Express using our Mac as a base station.

Provided your Mac either has a built-in ethernet port or you have a USB or Thunderbolt ethernet adapter, we can connect our Mac to a wired internet connection and create a new wireless network using our Mac's built-in Wi-Fi. On the one hand, this means that our Mac will have to be physically connected to the internet connection but on the other hand, any other devices (such as an iPad) can then be used wirelessly.

Step 1

First of all, connect your Mac to the wired internet connection and make sure it's working by opening an internet browser and visiting a website. This will save us time if we have trouble along the way.

Step 2

Once you've confirmed your connection is working, it's time to share it. Open up System Preferences and select Sharing

System Preferences provides access to the sharing options that we'll use.
System Preferences provides access to the sharing options that we'll use.

You'll notice an option that is currently disabled called Internet Sharing. What we're going to do is share the connection from the Ethernet connection to the Wi-FI connection, creating a network from our Mac.

Internet Sharing cannot be enabled until it is configured first.
Internet Sharing cannot be enabled until it is configured first.

Change the connection sharing from Wi-FI to Ethernet (this may appear as Ethernet Adaptor if you're using a Mac without built-in ethernet).

Once you've changed this, you can then select to share it to computers using Wi-Fi by ticking the appropriate box.

Before we enable Internet Sharing, we'll want to change some of the Wi-Fi options.
Before we enable Internet Sharing, we'll want to change some of the Wi-Fi options.

Step 3

Next, click on Wi-Fi Options… where we can then specify the name of the network we'll create and a suitable password. By default, the Mac will create a network with no security which we do not want to keep. Instead, change the security option to WPA2 Personal and then enter a password that is at least 8 characters long.

We can make sure our network remains private by setting a secure password.
We can make sure our network remains private by setting a secure password.

Step 4

Once you've completed setting up your wireless options, it's time to start Internet Sharing. Click on the check box next to the option and System Preferences will display a warning stating that it may cause network interference for other computers on the network. This tends to happen if Internet Sharing has been enabled and someone is attempting to share a connection from a wireless network to a wired connection that is already an established network.

Once you enable Internet Sharing, you'll be prompted if you wish to continue.
Once you enable Internet Sharing, you'll be prompted if you wish to continue.

Once enabled, connect another device such as an iPad and test it out. If all has gone well, you'll be able to access the internet via the wired connection from your iPad, wirelessly.


Wrapping Up

Using this tutorial, you'll be able to avoid having to pay for the expense of a wireless connection or be able to access the internet if you're in a room that happens to have a poor wireless signal. If you're on the move a lot and find yourself often struggling with internet connections, you may wish to print a copy of this tutorial and take it with you.

If you've used this guide or have any other comments or feedback, I'd love to hear from you using the comments section below.

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