Using a PC, create a free WiFi hotspot for sharing

I was recently doing one of my cyber security presentations at a professional meeting in a posh Dallas area hotel, and there was a need for several users to get online for research purposes. As the speaker, I had a hard-wired Ethernet connection allowing me to access the Internet, but the available WiFi connections in the room were weak and slow, making it difficult for the others to connect to the Internet. This was one of those situations where a common and inexpensive WiFi router connected to the available Ethernet cable would have sufficed, but no one had a WiFi router with them, as that is something that we typically do not carry in our computer bags. I remembered a column about a year ago in the Daily Buggle (thedailybuggle.com/wifi-hotspot-free-windows-pc) that explained how to use a modern WiFi capable Windows PC as a WiFi hotspot without the use of any additional hardware. I searched for that article, found it, and in a matter of minutes, we were all connected to the Internet using our laptops, netbooks and smart phones.

Most recent versions of Windows include a little known feature called Internet connection sharing (ICS), which is especially easy to set up and configure as an ad-hoc wireless network on Windows 7. When used with a freeware utility, Mhotspot (mhotspot.com), the Internet connected laptop computer becomes a virtual WiFi router with no additional hardware and no complicated software configuration. Once installed on the computer, the Mhotspot software does all of the work and creates a WiFi hotspot without the use of complex configuration. Mhotspot is so simple that a single mouse click creates the hotspot.

The newly released version 4 of Mhotspot was released in February 2012 and is a fast 210 kb download, even though the Web site still shows it as version 3 (www.mhotspot.com/download.html). The Mhotspot software requires Windows 7, but being the skeptic, I downloaded it to an XP laptop — and it would not install on the XP machine. Mhotspot ran flawlessly on my newer Windows 7 laptop, though.

The setup process was fast and simple, consisting of only two steps without any intricate configurations. There is no traditional installation, as the program is ready to run when downloaded. First, I had to choose a name for my hotspot and then create a password with a minimum of eight characters. The Mhotspot window appeared offering the choice to start or stop the hotspot, or set up its properties. If a configuration is necessary, it is a “one time” event and does not have to be repeated in order to use Mhotspot in the future. For those who may need visual instructions on downloading and running Mhotspot, there is a sequential set of graphical instructions on the Mhotspot Web site and a three minute YouTube video clearly demonstrates the process.

Using the “how to” instructions on the Mhotspot Web site, it took me about three minutes to download the software, run it, choose a hotspot name and password, and set my Internet connection to “share.” As soon as it was ready, my audience could wirelessly access the Internet using the hotspot name and password that I created. Fully cognizant that the more users sharing the available bandwidth the less connection speed available to each, I was still able to demonstrate what I needed to show, and the participants were able to do what they needed to do. In the group that was sharing my hotspot was a small assortment of laptops, smart phones and iPads, along with an obsolescent netbook. After I completed my session, I clicked on the “Stop” button on the Mhotspot window, and the hotspot was shut down.

Later in the day, during an impromptu get together, I was asked by a self-proclaimed geek how I made my laptop into a hotspot without using a WiFi router, which he doubted could be done. Since there was an available Ethernet connection, I plugged in my computer, clicked on the Mhotspot icon on my desktop, clicked on the “start” button, gave him my hotspot name and password, and in seconds he was connected to the Internet wirelessly through my laptop without the use of a router! The Mhotspot had remembered all of my settings, and simply clicking on the icon and starting the utility made my computer a hotspot again.

I can visualize several scenarios where Mhotspot on a Windows 7 computer can be useful. As happened recently in the Dallas hotel, there was only a single Ethernet connection available in the hotel room and more than one of us wanted to access the Internet at the same time; Mhotspot allowed us to do that. Similar arrangements can be made in classrooms, meeting rooms and other places where people need to share Internet access.

Somebody somewhere must have found a use for Mhotspot as the CNet Web site download.com shows the Mhotspot software as the current No. 3 most popular downloaded “Wireless Network Utility,” with over 154,000 copies downloaded, of which over 5,700 copies were downloaded in the preceding week. Mhotspot has been reviewed and rated by several of the reputable software evaluation services, most giving Mhotspot their highest ratings. These rating services include “Editors’ Choice” awards from Brothersoft and FreeWareFiles, and “Excellent Ratings” from Download3000 and FreeWindows. For those concerned with the safety of downloading software, Softpedia tested the download, and certified it with its “100 percent” rating, indicating that it is totally free of any types of spyware, adware or viruses.

The Mhotspot icon proudly sits on the desktop of my Windows 7 computer, ready to wirelessly share my Internet connection on an instant’s notice.

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.

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