Off-Topic: Traveling Internationally? Take Your Broadband

I just got back from SharePoint Connections Autumn in The Hague (there's a US version of the show in Vegas this November) and one of the things I had to figure out for this trip was how to access the Internet. For anyone else who might be in the same shoes, I thought I'd share an interesting solution I found.

After a February trip to Australia, I've become really cautious of assuming the hotel will have decently-priced Internet. While $10-20 isn't unusual in the US, Australian hotels are closer to $30 a day or more. Plus, I've become really attached to my smartphone's unlimited US data plan, and didn't want to do without mobile broadband while in another country. 

My phone is locked to my US carrier, and while unlocking is always an option, prepaid data SIMs aren't as easy to use as you might think. In some countries - the UK, for example - they're easy to find, easy to activate, and cheap; in others (France), you have to wait up to 48 hours in-country for the data to kick in. Plus, I was traveling with a business partner, and wasn't sure I wanted to go through the whole "find a SIM, activate it, and pay for it" for both of us.

Most prepaid data SIMs also offer limited or capped bandwidth, as they're intended for smartphones and not for laptops - and they don't usually permit tethering with phones that offer that feature. True, not all carriers enforce those rules - but some do so automatically, and I didn't want to be cut off at 40MB while trying to upload a chapter DOCX file to my publisher!

Some serious Google searching turned up XComGlobal.com. They will rent you either an international USB modem for your laptop, or - what I chose - a MiFi 3G/Wi-Fi mobile hotspot. Smaller than an iPhone, this little puppy gets unlimited Internet in the country for your choice for $18/day - about what an expensive US hotel would charge, but MOBILE! Turn it on, leave it in your pocket or a backpack, and your smartphone is "live" - it'll support up to 5 devices. A downside is that the thing has to be programmed for the country, so you can't roam countries with it; the company will charge $9/day extra for additional units (apiece), which is kind of a hassle. I suspect that the SIM they're using in the MiFi is actually world-capable, and I'd just need to reprogram the APN settings in the device to make it work in other countries, but I wasn't able to test that. I also suspect their USB modem option (which does support multiple countries) would be compatible with my CradlePoint PHS-300 mobile hotspot, but I haven't been able to get the company to give me the actual model number of the USB modem so I could confirm. 

Anyway - the solution worked fantastic. The MiFi charges from a mini-USB, so it was one adapter I didn't have to take (my digital camera uses the same thing, so they shared a cable and I charged off of my laptop's USB port). They FedEx you the unit prior to your US departure, and include a return envelope and label. Convenient and, while not the cheapest option out there, definitely met my need.

(Note that I paid full price for this product - nobody gave me anything for free and I'm not on commission or anything!)

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