On a Dell laptop, it is crucial to DISABLE one “power-saving” feature guaranteed to drive you mad.
In Vista’s “Power Options” panel, the bottom item on the left is “Dell Internal Network Card Power Management.” It is intended to save power by disabling the network card if no network cable is plugged into it. You’ll see it in this screen shot.
Invariably the NIC will not wake up again and you won’t be able to connect when you plug a cable in at your next stop. It will take you a long time to discover that “Local Area Connection” shows as Disabled.
When this happened to me I gnashed my teeth and rent my garments until I found this setting by accident. Set it to “Always activate on battery” and you won’t have to rend your garments.