In my day job, I support the IT needs of a large organization, where I frequently grapple with the connectivity challenges of our organization's visitors. These guests come from industry, academia, and government. Many of them do not have admin rights to their machines, while others lack a wireless card that will work with our system. Because my company does not allow Ethernet wired connectivity for guests and requires that all wireless connections use WPA2, these small issues could be a big problem.
The solution was both plug-and-play simple and dirt cheap. It's a portable wireless device called the Edimax 7206-APg, which I purchased from Newegg.com for $30. The Edimax is an 802.11g/b access point that can also act as a wireless LAN client -- aka "wireless station mode." With both an Ethernet port and an 802.11g/b interface, the Edimax serves as a bridge between the wired and wireless networks and brings connectivity to any visitor's computer without any configuration required.
This device is unique in that its firmware allows it to be treated as if it were a client station -- that is, a laptop. Most wireless access points do not have this capability. All the user needs to do is plug in an Ethernet cable, and they have connectivity as if they were plugging into the wall.
After successfully testing this device with 15 laptops, we bought several for our various conference rooms. During the test, users were able to successfully VPN back to their home networks, surf the Internet, read email, and more. Now all of our guests enjoy zero-configuration connectivity. (We do have an additional layer of security in case the Edimax is lost or stolen: a Web portal that requires the user to enter a user name and password from a browser.)
The Edimax requires power via 110V AC adapter and Ethernet cable. This makes for awkward mobile work because a laptop user would need to find two 110V plugs: one for the laptop and one for the Edimax device. Maybe Edimax will offer a USB-powered version in the future. But where power outlets are easy to come by, this $30 device is very handy.
The Edimax has worked with every laptop we've tried -- Windows, Mac, Linux -- bringing wireless LAN access even to laptops without a wireless card. It's perfect for users who do not possess the technical ability to configure a wireless interface, or in situations where users do not have the necessary admin privileges to activate the wireless card in their machine.