MeemTip: Setup a Wifi-Bluetooth Network Bridge

Big problem

Recently at a partnering firm’s office, my work laptop could not connect to the wifi network.

Even bigger problem

Out of at least 15 systems, my laptop was the only one that couldn’t connect to the wifi network.

Context

Being an IT Consultant means I rely on Internet access from wherever I am in order to maintain synchronisation with work and project files. So after a week without Internet access on this particular project (and googling the issue on my phone which had no problem with wifi access), I discovered a rather perplexing problem: the Intel wifi card in my laptop (Dell Inspiron 11 3000 series) does not play very nicely with the Cisco Small Business Pro router (SRP 547W) at the partnering firm’s office.

What are the odds that I’d be a statistic in this fairly rare situation?

Anyway, I developed a workaround by bridging the wifi and Bluetooth connections on my phone, and by pairing my phone to my laptop via Bluetooth, the laptop was able to access the Internet connection that my phone was serving to it from its wifi connection.

How it works

The solution is called a network bridge. Essentially, you take network A (that is based on a certain protocol) and link it to network B (based on another protocol), such that the devices on A are able to interact with (hopefully all) devices on B. In my situation, this is what it needed to be:

Bridging the divide: What to do when your phone will connect to the local wi-fi network but your laptop won't.

Bridging the divide: What to do when your phone will connect to the local wi-fi network but your laptop won’t.

 

First, establish that the wifi connection on the phone is working by testing the browser and other network applications.

Then enable Bluetooth on the phone, and somewhere in the mobile network settings, you’ll find an option to enable Bluetooth Internet Sharing. Here’s how it looks on an Android phone and iPhone:

 

Sharing is caring: The Bluetooth Internet Sharing option on the HTC One M8 (Android) and the iPhone.

Sharing is caring: The Bluetooth Internet Sharing option on the HTC One M8 (Android, left) and the iPhone (right).

At this point, three things are happening on the phone:

  1. Wifi is enabled and working fine
  2. Bluetooth is enabled and working fine
  3. The wifi’s internet access is being shared with the Bluetooth connection

That last point is critical: it means that potentially any device that connects to the phone via Bluetooth will have access to the Internet connection via the phone’s wifi. Or, stated more succintly, the phone provides a bridge from its Bluetooth interface to its wifi interface.

The beauty of this method is that it does not rely on the phone’s mobile network connection, which means you won’t be at the mercy of your data plan’s bandwidth and monthly cap limitations.

Great! I’ve solved my problem. Anything else?

A few things to note:

  1. Bluetooth is noticeably slower than wifi (Bluetooth 3.0 at 24Mbps vs Wi-fi 802.11ac at 150Mbps), so as long as you’re not planning on watching lengthy media streams, you’ll be able to carry out most Internet-related tasks with manageable delays.
  2. The security of this type of connection has two high-level elements, namely the Bluetooth passcode and wifi security key, both of which are reasonably secure for most applications. However, I always advise caution in matters pertaining to wireless connectivity, so as much as possible, find a wired alternative, or use this workaround for as short a time as possible.
  3. Keep the phone plugged in to a charger as the network bridge will deplete the battery significantly, as it’s using both Bluetooh and wifi.

Hope this helps. Any questions can be posted in the comments or tweeted to me and I’ll try to respond ASAP.

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