Mobile Edge
It looks like a car door opener but it actually finds WiFi networks.
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 9/23/2004 8:47:20 AM ET 2004-09-23T12:47:20

When I travel I love to find WiFi wireless networks I can use in a pinch.  It’s become easy to find WiFi in hotels. But, in airports, train stations and even outdoors in parks I’m sometimes forced to open my laptop or PDA, and log-in to see if I can find an open network where I can check my e-mail. 

My search has been made a whole lot easier.  I now have one of Mobile Edge’s WiFi Signal Locators.  It is a small keychain/fob type of device which is a lot more sophisticated than it looks -– and to me it looks like one of those wireless, remote car door openers.

The locator is 2.2 by 1.1 by 0.4 inches and won’t weigh down your keychain.  There is one big button to press right in the middle and a red, four LED display to show signal strength (or not).  The device runs on two CR2032 button batteries.

Operating the locator is very simple -- hold it in your hand, press the button and you can see if there’s a WiFi network in that direction.  If one LED lights up it indicates a usable but weak signal; 2 LEDs indicate a stronger signal; 3 LEDs indicate a strong, stable signal and 4 LEDs indicate an excellent signal is present.  If the Signal Locator's LEDs don’t stop scanning it means you should aim in another direction and try again.

The device is said to be able to find an 802.11b or g network within 300 feet.  In real life testing I found the device was pretty accurate seeking out WiFi signals within that range (depending on walls, ceilings and big buildings in the way).

It was interesting to see what happens to the WiFi signal in my home after it leaves the access point’s antenna — especially where it bounces and where dead spots are located.  The Signal Locator actually let me re-position my access points for maximum coverage and minimal interference.

For those who worry about such things, the people at Mobile Edge say their device can’t be fooled by other devices operating on the same frequencies.  They claim there are patent-pending technologies at work inside that eliminate false readings from microwaves and cordless phones.  In my tests none of my cordless phones or my microwave I could find to operate  could trip up the small device.  Nor was the device fooled by any of the myriad of radio frequency signals inside the MSNBC TV studios.

Of course nothing is perfect.  The WiFi Signal Locator finds networks very well but it can’t discriminate between open networks and closed networks protected by encrypted passwords.  Although it would be a welcomed addition, I believe that kind of circuitry would be too large and expensive for a device of this size.

This little device is made to be a quick signal/direction finder for 802.11b/g open networks and delivers on all its promises.  After a quick search I found the finder selling for under $30 on the Web.  As a quick way to start your search for a WiFi network on the go, the Mobile Edge device is recommended.

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