Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Internet on the Go

When are you most in need of Internet access? Is it when you're at home and looking for ways to pass the time, or is it when you're away - perhaps in uncharted territories - and you need that elusive Internet access to plan your your future?
I vote for that second answer. Indeed, I have been quoted saying that one of the most dreadful aspects of me visiting my parents in Israel is the fact this is the only place I know where there is no Internet access. Things are about to change, though, and now the Internet has been made accessible from anywhere (anywhere I'm likely to be, at least) at reasonable prices.
The solution comes in the shape of a 3G wi-fi hotspot modem. Essentially it's just another wireless modem that, through a SIM in its belly, receives cellular signals and thus provides internet access. The trick, though, is in it acting as a wi-fi router, too: this means any wi-fi capable device can use its signal, including your laptop or your iPhone - or the two simultaneously.
Think of the possibilities here. Going overseas? Grab one of those hotspots modems with you. Upon arrival to your destination country, get yourself a local data SIM. Stick it in your modem and that's it - you have yourself Internet access.
That access point can then be used for anything and everything: you can Skype (even from your iPhone, as the iPhone regards the signal as just another wi-fi network); you can entertain yourself using YouTube; or you can book a rental car and research your driving itinerary. If you have another person with you to help, you can even use your Internet for live navigation. After all, we're talking about a mobile connection here!
Having suffered from Internet deprivation enough for this life already, I don't see myself getting out of the country without one of these toys in my hand luggage. It may have a significant cost to it, but it's much cheaper than global roaming; and through Skype you can make as many calls you want without thinking twice about it.

The Australian market currently features several options for 3G wi-fi hotspot modems. Let's have a look at the two I'm more familiar with.
Virgin Mobile offers an Optus/VHA but not Telstra Next G friendly modem (frequency compatibility wise) for $150. If you want that modem unlocked, so you can use it with any network, you need to charge it with $80 extra. You can buy the same modem, unlocked, from eBay for around $150 (search for "mifi"), but note these tend to not support the 900Mhz frequencies used by Optus in rural areas (just the sort of places you might find the Internet most useful).
A newish alternative to the market is the NetComm MyZone modem (reviewed here and here). Slightly more sophisticated than Virgin's, this one currently sells exclusively through Apple shops for the next two months at $300, after which Officeworks and Harvey Norman will be selling it, too. The MyZone works on the 850Mhz frequency unique to the Telstra Next G service but does not support the 900Mhz Optus uses, which makes it the better option for the majority of Australia's rural areas where Telstra is the only option but also means you have to use Telstra's significantly more expensive services.
Interestingly enough, newish Android mobile phones have the ability to turn themselves into wi-fi hotspots. The iPhone has that ability too, but you can only get to it if you jailbreak it; Jobs wouldn't let you actually enjoy the benefits of this device you paid a fortune for. There is, however, a significant disadvantage to using your phone as your router: battery life.
I suspect there will be more to come in this "take your Internet with you" arena as the option becomes more popular and as more people become as addicted to the Internet as I am.

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