On the road again: ways to keep your business working
while you’re wayward and wireless
by Alan Zisman (c) 2012
published in Business in
Vancouver June 12, 2012 Issue #1181 High Tech
- Some hotels promise free Wi-Fi but
actually provide only an hour of free access
The holy grail of mobile technology is to be always connected with good
bandwidth and devices that let us do what we want.
Most of us are only part way there – about half of us have smartphones.
These let us always be connected to email, the web and more – until we
travel out of country and face high roaming fees. And while convenient,
actually working on smartphones is less than ideal – at least for me.
I can be more productive on a laptop but find those often more bulky
than I want to carry around. And laptops use Wi-Fi to connect – good if
there’s a nearby hotspot, but far from always connected. (Yes, I could
share a smartphone’s mobile data with my laptop or use another gadget
For the past couple of years, my portable technology of choice has been
one of Apple’s original iPad models. I’m one of the 20% or so of iPad
owners who paid a $130 price premium to get a mobile data-enabled model
letting me use a Wi-Fi hotspot when available or other times connect to
a mobile-carrier’s data network. At least when I’m in Canada.
Last summer, I reported that I’d found it easy and affordable to
replace the Canadian SIMs in my iPad and a loaner HTC Android
smartphone with ones purchased from Vodafone Italia. These let me
access the local network – so no roaming charges – and automatically
stopped working after a month. (The trick was to have hardware that was
not locked to a specific service – iPads are all unlocked, but most of
our phones are not.)
This spring, I was in New York City for a week, again with my iPad, and
again wanted short-term access to a local mobile data network. An
AT&T store near my hotel was happy to provide me with a SIM for a
month’s service for about US$25. More time than I needed, but no
problem – I thought.
I’ve learned to make sure I can connect before I leave the shop. Like
Canada’s Rogers, AT&T provides SIMs that are pre-activated; when
plugged in, software appears on the device allowing the user to pick a
plan, enter credit card information and get online.
Slick and handy. But AT&T’s software required me to enter a credit
card with a U.S. address. No zip code, no service. Sorry. Apparently,
there was no way they could take my money.
Competitor T-Mobile was two doors down the street. It could sell me a
SIM good for a week’s service for US$10 – a better fit for my travel
plans. Unlike AT&T, its card had to be activated by a salesperson –
who needed to phone tech support to learn how to do it.
But after 10 minutes, I was up and running – as tested before I left
My SIM card adventures weren’t over, however. The micro-SIMs used by
iPads are about the size of my baby fingernail. So I cleverly taped my
Rogers SIM onto the back of a business card I’d picked up at the
AT&T store to make sure I wouldn’t lose it.
Smart idea - except I threw the business card away while cleaning out
my wallet. Back in Canada, a $10 replacement SIM and 20 minutes on the
phone to Rogers’ support got everything back to normal.
One more travel tip: hotel Wi-Fi often isn’t all you might hope – some
hotels promise free Wi-Fi but actually provide only an hour’s access
for free. And even where the promised free connection really exists,
bandwidth can be poor with a router down the hall somewhere serving
Worth packing: a portable Wi-Fi router such as Apple’s $109 Airport
Express. About the size of a cigarette pack, it plugs into an
electrical outlet and connects to a wired network port – often (though
not always) found in hotel rooms, giving you your own Wi-Fi connection.
Just don’t forget to pack a network cable!