While wi-fi is
becoming a common amenity in many parts of the globe, high-speed data
connections are often expensive. You may face charges from the hotel or airport
providing internet service, or from the local cellular company if you roam on
its data network -- as most non-residents must.
if you’re an international traveller that is also a heavy internet user, you
may be able to save money by renting a mobile hotspot that connects directly to
a local cellular network and avoids expensive charges for data usage.
This week, Hertz
became the first car rental agency in Australia to begin renting mobile
hotspots to its customers, having recently introduced the concept to selected
locations in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Canary Islands.
But other companies
have been renting mobile hotspots for the past three years. The devices are
tiny and lightweight – they can sit in your pocket or backpack along with your tablet,
smartphone and laptop – and after you initiate a connection, the hotspot automatically
re-broadcasts the cellular signals from local mobile networks as wi-fi
connections. Hotspots have an approximate four-hour battery life and come with
local charging cables.
cost of renting a mobile hotspot may be less than buying an international data package from
your network provider. Rates vary by country and length of trip,
but here’s an example: if you downloaded between 300 and 800 megabytes of data during
a week in Western Europe, you would pay $120 on an AT&T international
data package. Renting the Tep Wireless Pocket wi-fi mobile hotspot for
the same number of days would cost about $64 for up to 500 megabytes of data
(and an additional fee of $7 a day if you needed unlimited downloads).
In another perk, Tep
and other wi-fi hotspots support multiple devices on the same connection, while
cellular data plans only support a single device.
general, pocket hotspots for all countries usually allow unlimited downloads,
except for Thailand, whose local telecoms have stringent rules. But note that cellular
networks in most countries have “fair use policies” that limit excessive
downloading, such as consuming more than 500 megabytes in a week. Travellers
who exceed limits may face reduced network speeds (down to 2G from 3G, for
example) or lose access. That said, the typical smartphone user consumes around
25 megabytes a day and shouldn’t have problems.
a roundup of some of the most notable options.
Tep Wireless Pocket
Available since 2011
through Tep, a British wireless technology start-up, travellers based in the US and Europe can rent a hotspot
that automatically connects to local mobile networks in 38 European countries
and the US. (The device comes in two versions, one for single-country use and
one for pan-European use. There is no global, multi-country option) In October,
Tep added coverage to 17 other countries, including Brazil, Russia, Singapore
and China. Rental rates average $7 a day, but vary by country and the length of
a trip. Tep also offers a device that for use in more than one European country
on a single trip, with a sample 10-day, multi-country trip costing $85 plus
shipping. Travellers can pick up (and return) a the rentable device at
designated kiosks at Heathrow Airport and London’s Paddington Station for free,
or pay shipping fees of between $22 and $30 to receive and return the device. There
are caps on downloading that vary by country, but Tep’s is the most restrictive
of the personal hotspots mentioned here, with a typical allowance of 150 megabytes
International Mi-Fi Hotspot Rental
In 2010, Cellular
Abroad began renting its first hotspot for use in Italy, and now its devices work
in 130 countries, including Australia and China. Rates are for unlimited data
consumption and vary by itinerary and length of trip, but a two-week trip to
any of the largest European countries costs $15 a day. Usage across multiple
countries on the same journey costs extra. There are no pick-up locations, so to
receive and return the device, you must pay a shipping charge, which is usually
$13 in total.
XCom Global MiFi
With the broadest coverage of these
devices, XCom Global MiFi debuted in 2010 allowing travellers to take advantage of local networks — usually
3G (though it offers 4G in Japan) — in 174 countries, including 40 European
countries such as France and Bulgaria. The flat rate is $15 a day for the first
two countries you visit, with a $30 charge for each additional country. XCom
offers unlimited data. So far, the only pick-up spot is a counter at Los
Angeles International Airport and an Amnet travel agency
near Grand Central Station in New York City, so most customers will need to pay
for shipping to receive and return the device for a fee that’s usually $30
round-trip for North American travellers.
Hertz Mobile Wi-Fi Hire
The rental car chain rents portable
wi-fi hotspots in major airport and city centre locations in Australia and the
United Kingdom, plus at Auckland airport in New Zealand, Madrid Airport in Spain
and Grand Canaria Airport in the Canary Islands. Customers pick-up and drop off
the device at a Hertz location (no shipping option), and you don’t need to hire
a car to get the service. Costs and usage caps vary by country, with a daily cap of 150 megabytes
of downloads being typical. Visit the Hertz website and select your destination
country and then click on Products & Services on the homepage menu to see
Sean O’Neill is the
travel tech columnist for BBC Travel