To turn a Windows 7 laptop into a Wifi hotspot we’ll be using a free program called Virtual Router. To get this, launch a web browser and visit Virtual Router's download page. When the page has loaded, click the green Download button on the right. Now click the I Agree button and, if the File Download Security Warning dialogue box appears, click Save and then choose a location for the file. Firefox users should select Save File to save the download to Firefox’s default download folder. Now locate and double-click the downloaded file and work through the installation wizard, accepting the defaults. When done, the program will display a configuration window for the Wifi hotspot that it is going to create. Change the label in the Network Name field if you like (this will be the network name other Wifi devices will connect to) and type in a password of at least eight characters.
Virtual Router can share any available internet connection over Wifi, including the Wifi connection to which it is itself connected: this is useful if one laptop can connect to a hotspot, but a second, older one cannot; or if sharing a Wifi connection that’s paid by the hour, for example. If the laptop has more than one active network connection, select the one with the internet connection from the Shared Connection dropdown menu. Finally, click the Start Virtual Router button - and the Windows 7 laptop becomes a Wifi hotspot.
Connecting to this hotspot with another Wifi device is the same as with any other Wifi network, but the exact steps differ slightly for different versions of Windows. With any laptop, first make sure its Wifi connection is active, then in Windows XP, right-click the Wifi icon in the Notification Area and select the View Available Wireless Networks option; in Windows Vista, the option is called Connect to a network. In Windows 7, just click the Notification Area icon to see a list of available networks.
In all versions of Windows, once the list of available Wifi networks appears, click to select the Windows 7 laptop’s Wifi hotspot name: this will be VirtualRouter, unless you changed it in Step 1. Click the Connect button and type in the same password set in Step 1. Virtual Router uses WPA2 encryption for its Wifi hotspot, so other devices must support this to connect to it (most do). Wait a second or two for the Wifi connection to establish, then open a page in the second laptop’s web browser to check that everything is working.
Handheld devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs can also connect to a Virtual Router hotspot. This is useful if the only available internet connection is via an Ethernet cable. Again, the exact steps differ depending on the device, but in iOS on an iPhone or iPad tap Settings followed by Wi-Fi. The Wifi network name (VirtualRouter) will appear in the list – tap to select it, type the password and tap Join to connect to it.
The Virtual Router application window displays details of each connected device, so keep an eye out for internet interlopers in the Peers Connected section. The only devices listed here should be ones you recognise but if something seems amiss, click the Stop Virtual Router button, set a new password and then restart the hotspot by clicking Start Virtual Router.