Options for staying connected to the Internet while traveling outside the US for extended period of time.
May 11, 2007 8:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be traveling outside the US for the next year with my laptop and was wondering what the best options are for internet connectivity. The itinerary isn't set, but it will be a mix of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America. I'm a freelance web developer and will be working remotely part time to support my existing clients during my travels.

I've traveled a decent amount before and know about the prevalence internet cafes overseas, but I would like to be able to get online in apartments/hotels/hostels etc to do work. Has anyone had experience with 3G modems or any other mobile connectivity devices overseas? I have an unlocked SE W810i. Will that work as a 3G modem on overseas networks or do I need to get a separate modem? Cingular has a world traveler data plan for $140/month that covers a lot of countries. Anyone use that? T-mobile also has a plan for global hot spot usage, but they charge Roaming fees outside the US. Finally how bout an AOL account? A previous MEF post mentioned that as a backup option.
posted by funkyavocado to Technology (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have overseas data experience, but World Traveller is useless. There is a 100MB per month roaming limit and you have to keep the plan for a year. In countries where there is a carrier that offers data plans on prepaid for a reasonable price, that is hands down the best way to go.

The W810i won't work as a 3G modem anywhere, as it only has EDGE, but it will do EDGE anywhere in the world. If your laptop has bluetooth, you can connect it up easy as pie, either with a software dialer or using dial up networking in Windows (and OSX and Linux, too)

I suppose if you didn't mind the cost, and you knew you wouldn't exceed 100MB a month while you were abroad, Cingular's World Traveller would be OK. Unfortunately, there are no better options that I know of, besides the aforementioned prepaid data. In some countries (Brazil leaps to mind), you can't get GSM data on prepaid, at all, for any price. That's the only reason WT is worth anything, IMO.

AOL is dastardly expensive for overseas usage. IBM was a lot easier on the pocketbook before they sold out to AT&T (who renamed the IBM Global Network service WorldNet). I never got to use it, but there was a time when IBM gave you a fair number of hours of overseas dialup at no extra cost. Perhaps WorldNet is still reasonably priced, if they even have overseas numbers..
posted by wierdo at 8:33 AM on May 11, 2007

The only place I've had the 3G icon light up on my SE K800i was in Germany and Japan. Both places worked fine for voice and data. Outside of major countries -- and large cities -- like that you're going to find 3G pretty sparse.

GPRS at its snail like pace is pretty widespread in many more contries. However, GPRS isn't everywhere. When I was in Thailand, the voice roaming network the phone [and t-mobile] wanted to connect to didn't offer data. But the other GSM network did so I could manually change operators. I'm going to Costa Rica next month and T-mobile says there's no data with either of its partners. However it was hard to find a hotel that didn't have "we have wireless!!" in its marketing material.

Using the wifi will probably be a good option in most decent sized cities. Many hotels will offer it as will other places but you're much less likely to find it free like you can in the US.

When I was living in a smallish town in Mexico, the lady that ran the cafe with a few computers hooked up to the internet let me plug in my computer to her router rather than using the old Compaq desktop with the Latin American keyboard. I paid her the usual hourly rate. Other places I've gone -- little mom and pop places-- would let me do the same, but sometimes whoever set it up for them had a fixed IP vs. DHCP so I couldn't get on without disrupting their entire operation.

A dial-up account like AOL [I used Earthlink many moons ago for dialup when I went to Europe pre-802.11 days] is an option. The roaming rate was pretty high, but there was coverage in many smaller towns. Also, phone billing is different so you could pay a lot to connect to the POP dial in number to the phone company, then owe the ISP money for data.

The worst case roaming scenario would be to use your cell phone as a modem for a dial-up connection. You're using the cell phone to call the dial-up number for an ISP. Depending on what country you're in, that can get expensive [T-mobile charges $1.5/min for voice in Europe and most of LA, Asia but $5/min in Moscow].
posted by birdherder at 8:35 AM on May 11, 2007

I'm doing something similar to what you're doing -- working remotely overseas -- although I guess technically I'm just in one place, Egypt.

Nonetheless, my experience is still relevant, because until recently I didn't have a place of my own where I was staying.

In my experience, one of the best places you can take your laptop is Egypt. Nearly every upscale cafe, bar (even McDonalds) has free WiFi, so connectivity here is not an issue. I know you said you wanted to do some work in your hotel room but really it's almost better to do it outside...I myself find it a lot easier to concentrate when I'm at a cafe for some reason.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:39 AM on May 11, 2007

FWIW, AT&T does still maintain the old IBM dial-up roaming, but not for WorldNet customers. You have to sign up through attbusiness.com.

It's cheaper than AOL, at a flat $4.80 per hour of roaming. Ack!
posted by wierdo at 8:41 AM on May 11, 2007

Can you be any more specific as to where you are going? Asia, for example, is a pretty big place and there is a huge difference between what you might need for, say, Japan as opposed to what you might need for China.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:47 AM on May 11, 2007

Any US-based solution is probably designed for the short-term, expense-accounted business traveler visiting one country - I doubt you'll be able to find a world-spanning, one-size-fits-all solution here.

I think the key issue is going to be maximizing the amount of work you do on your laptop without it being connected to the Internet. Even things like checking your e-mail daily, if you're really off the beaten path, won't be usual (though it more probably will be if you're anywhere that receives more than a trickle of foreign tourists). I'd be prepared for power outages and glacially slow connections than anything else.
posted by mdonley at 2:05 PM on May 11, 2007

You definitely want to investigate T-Mobile's Unlimited International Email plan for BlackBerry. Googling will lead you to you several long, passionate debates (this one is probably best) re. whether this plan can or cannot be used for tethering. The truth spawning all this debate seems to be that no, it cannot offically, but many countries lack the infrastructure and/or the desire to distinguish tethering from on-device usage and therefore don't report it back to T-Mobile -- so T-Mo can't charge for it.

T-Mobile's $20/mo with zero commitment (hop on hop of, billed by the day!) is a hell of a lot cheaper than Cingular's $140/mo with two-year commitment. So much so, in fact, that as you can see it would still likely save money to go with a T-Mo BlackBerry and investigate in which countries you do get charged for tethering. (And you would know you could always at least do on-device email for 20/mo flat -- check out their coverage maps for the almost total coverage in even countries you might not expect it in).
posted by allterrainbrain at 12:13 PM on May 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the suggestions. I will be in a variety of countries, Europe, Asia, Australia, South America, so it looks like the combination of local wifi and possibly the t-Mobile plan will be my best option.
posted by funkyavocado at 11:42 AM on May 15, 2007

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