Just before I headed out of San Francisco at the end of Macworld | iWorld last week, I met up with a few of the guys from BearExtender, who make an impressive product that will boost the Wi-Fi signal coming into your Mac. The guys were in San Francisco to show off the BearExtender Mini, which will eventually replace the current product.
The reason it will replace the standard BearExtender (so named, by the way, because it was developed for dorms at the University of California Berkeley, where the network is in fact called AirBears) is that it's just better. The standard Bear Extender runs at 700 milliwatts, where the mini is about half the size of the original product, and runs at 1000 milliwatts.
Your MacBook typically receives Wi-Fi at a range of about 200-400 feet maximum. The BearExtender expands that to about 1500 feet, which is a sizable difference. That varies, of course, depending on what kind of building you're in and your line of sight to the core signal. The Bear guys gave me a demonstration using Macworld | iWorld's press Wi-Fi network, which they boosted from a 50% signal all the way up to 100%
The BearExtender Mini should be out sometime in February, and should run about the same price as the current model, or US$49.97.
I also asked the guys about a possible model for the iPad, but they said that because of Apple's restrictions on power usage from the iPad's docking port (likely because Apple wants to make sure battery life is as high as it can be), the BearExtender wouldn't be able to pull enough power to work well. But they had a solution ready to go anyway -- if you need to reach a signal on the iPad and have a Mac around, you can use the BearExtender on the Mac, and then share the connection over to the iPad.
Finally, the guys had one more product on offer. The BearExtender Mini will sell with an optional powered cable that will extend the product out another 10 feet away from whatever USB port you're plugging it into. The power is required in the cable to keep the signal from degrading over that last 10 feet, and the cable will also help as an auxiliary antenna, to grow the reach even farther. There will be an extra charge for the cable, but it's clear the BearExtender team is very serious about making Wi-Fi signals reach where they need to go. If you're in a position (the guys say they've heard from soldiers in Afghanistan, and researchers out in the field as well) where you need to reach as far as possible for a Wi-Fi signal, the BearExtender setup is definitely worth a look.