Globalgig Brings Affordable Mobile Internet For World Travelers

Globalgig provides mobile Internet for international travelersSmartphones, tablets and laptops have all made travel easier and more enjoyable. Those devices help keep us connected to friends and family, allow us to more easily share our experiences and provide the ability to stay productive while on the road. But of course, all of those gadgets depend upon an Internet connection to be useful and at times it can be a real challenge to find such a connection. Mobile Internet services help alleviate many of those challenges, but finding a reliable and affordable service that works internationally can turn into an exercise in frustration.

Enter Globalgig, a mobile Internet provider that is working to take the complexity and high costs out of the equation. The service launched last fall, giving users flat pricing – without monthly contracts – for mobile Internet that works in three countries – the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. By mixing reliable 3G cellular service with affordable data tiers, Globalgig has quickly become a solid choice for the connected international traveler.

Today, Globalgig is announcing expanded service in more countries and aggressive new price points that will make it an even more attractive option for globetrotters. By partnering with wireless carriers in Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and Hong Kong, customers can now stay connected while traveling to each of those destinations in addition to the original three countries. Monthly fees now start at just $17 for 1GB of data, while other options include 2GB for $25, 5GB for $45 and 10GB for $80. Additionally, users can now choose to either buy the mobile Wi-Fi hotspot for $119 or get it free by signing an 18-month contract.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been putting the Globalgig service through its paces and I’ve found it to be surprisingly solid – especially for the price. Because it uses a 3G connection you’re not going to get the blazingly fast speeds that you’ll find from newer LTE technology, but more locations are covered in 3G service, which makes it a better option for world travelers. Speeds were still more than acceptable while surfing the web on my laptop and iPad, however, and it worked wonderfully for sending emails, instant messaging and tweeting. Streaming video or uploading photos required a bit more patience but those aren’t necessarily the activities you want to do with a limited bucket of data.Globalgig WiFi hotspotGlobalgig’s mobile hotspot is small and very lightweight, which makes it easy to carry with you anywhere you go. Its 5-hour battery life comes in handy when away from a power outlet for extended periods of time too. The device comes with several travel adapters for painless recharging around the globe and the hotspot has the ability to support up to five connected devices at any given time. That means, if you’re feeling generous, you can share your Internet connection with travel companions.

Set-up of the hotspot is a breeze, even for non-techies. Prior to using it for the first time, simply head over to Globalgig.com to create a user account and register the device. After a couple of hours the service will be up and running and you can begin using your mobile Internet service while on the go. The device appears like any other Wi-Fi router and serves up data to any device capable of connecting to it. You can even login to an on-board configuration screen that allows you to change the name of the hotspot, add a personal password and configure some of its settings.

In terms of price, it really is tough to beat Globalgig’s data plans, particularly if you travel regularly in the countries that the service covers. If you find yourself routinely in any of those places, and often in need of Internet access, carrying one of these hotspots is a bit of a no brainer. On the other hand, coverage is still limited to those destinations, which may be Globalgig’s biggest drawback at the moment. As the company fills in more of its coverage map, however, the service will only become more useful.

As it stands right now, it is a real challenge to find mobile Internet that reliably works on an international level. But Globalgig is delivering on that promise and they’re doing so without draining your bank account. If you find yourself in need of just such a service and regularly visit the countries that currently have coverage, this is definitely a great option. If you’re patient, you’ll probably see Globalgig expanding even further in the months ahead, bringing mobile data to even more countries. Hopefully, they’ll also eventually upgrade to 4G LTE services. But those minor quibbles aside, this is a service that will likely make many world travelers very happy.

[Photos: Globalgig]

United Kingdom: 3G service survey crowdsourced

united kingdom 3gThis morning, the BBC released a survey regarding the reach of 3G service across the United Kingdom. The BBC obtained its data the newfangled way, via crowdsourcing. In July, almost 45,000 people downloaded an Android app that allowed their mobile phones to be tracked for the survey.

And the outcome of the survey? The BBC found that about three-quarters of the time people in the UK appear to be able to access 3G coverage, though “notspots” (where users can access much slower 2G service) exist in many places. These notspots include a surprising number of areas within central London. There are also wide swaths of the country where no data came back from the crowdsourcing phone users.

The BBC’s multimedia survey allows readers to check coverage in their home postcodes. I found my own postcode (E2) to be generally well blanketed with 3G coverage, though not without its 3G-lacking pieces of the map.

The survey also points out that the country’s roads and railways are also undersaturated, with notably bad service along some heavily-used highways and train routes.

The BBC mentions the research of a startup called OpenSignalMaps, which has carried out a similar survey. OpenSignalMaps found that 3G is accessed just 58 percent of the time by users in the UK; furthermore, they have located 22,000 mostly rural places in the UK with no 3G service. Gwynedd in north Wales and Cumbria in northwest England are especially lacking in 3G service.

[Image: Flickr | William Hook]

Xcom Global’s MiFi rental service: why you shouldn’t leave the US without one

The goal here was to utilize Xcom Global’s MiFi rental service to stay connected and work while traveling. The trip? Four days in England, followed by three in France. I was scheduled to shoot my first international wedding in Paris, and was spending a few days in England beforehand — partly to enjoy the country, and partly to ensure that no weather problems in the US delayed my flight over. Xcom Global provides a service that every US-based international traveler should consider: they rent MiFi devices for a host of nations (a list that seems to grow each month), and if you aren’t familiar with a MiFi, the concept is pretty simple: it’s a battery-powered pebble with a country-specific SIM card in it. Just press a button, and within a few seconds, you’ll have a WiFi signal that connects up to five devices to a country’s 3G network.

For example, a French MiFi gives you unlimited 3G data with Orange. So long as you keep a charged battery in there, you can leave your smartphone in airplane mode and still use Google Maps to get around a foreign city — just connect your phone to the MiFi over Wi-Fi. If you aren’t familiar with what it costs to use data internationally, it’s around $5 per megabyte. What does that mean? Downloading the emails you missed on the flight over could easily cost $20, and if you maintained that connection for a whole day? It’s easy to rack up $300 or more in data roaming charges. No US carrier offers a decent international plan (at least not anymore), so you’re really left with two options: struggle to find Wi-Fi, or use Xcom Global. These guys will rent you a MiFi for under $20 per day, with return shipping included. That means unlimited Wi-Fi for around $17 a day in a foreign country, and it’s a connection that multiple people can use at once. If your hotel wants to ding you 10 Euros per day for Internet, just use this — problem solved. It’s an awesome way to stay connected while abroad, but honestly, it’s more than that. For mobile professionals, it’s a necessity.

I love my husband very much, I really do. But even he was kicking himself when we took off from the US and realized our MiFis were still in their shipping bag in our vehicle, safely parked at the airport, slipping further and further from Manchester. This piece was slated to be a review of Xcom’s services; instead, it has morphed into a thesis on just how frustrating it is to visit a foreign country without their services. You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone — isn’t that what they say? Read on for more.Both my husband and I were scheduled to continue working while in England. The plan was to use Xcom’s MiFi in our hotel rooms to check up on emails nightly, return any missed calls via Skype and then use the Internet on-the-go. We’d never been to Manchester, and we were banking on using Google Maps Navigation to get us from our train stop to our hotel. Needless to say, we spent nearly 10 Pounds on a taxi ride that we could’ve easily walked if we had the Internet to guide us. And that’s just the beginning. We arrived at our first hotel, a Holiday Inn. It’s a fine place, but they wanted 15 Pounds for 24 hours of Internet usage. Internet that we couldn’t take with us when exploring the streets of Manchester.

At this point, the only reasonable alternative was to find an O2 store, which sells a pay-as-you-go SIM for 15 Pounds that includes 500MB of data. But alas, it’s hard to locate an O2 store when there’s no Internet to find a store locator. We run downstairs and spend a solid ten minutes attempting to take directions from the front desk, and then another 15 minutes wandering aimlessly to a bus station. And then another 30 walking to a mall, and then another 30 waiting for the SIM to be activated. After our entire first morning in England was shot, we finally had data — on one phone, and we could only use around 100MB per day. After that, it forced us to wait until midnight for the next block of data to become usable.

This was obviously far from ideal. We were fortunate enough to own an unlocked smartphone (a standard Apple iPhone from AT&T would never accept another carrier’s SIM, for example). Plus, the Nexus One has a Mobile Hotspot function that pipes 3G data out over Wi-Fi. This enabled us to check our emails on our laptops, but O2 badly compresses all images that are uploaded, so obviously I was unable to create any photo blogs using this solution. To say that this wasn’t the perfect solution would be a tremendous understatement. Had we been in possession of Xcom’s MiFi, we would’ve had unlimited data to use as we saw fit, without any image compression or daily usage limits. Even if you aren’t interested in working while overseas, having the ability to use Google Maps to search for eateries and monuments (and get directions) is a total godsend. Without a MiFi, the only way to do it is to pay absurd roaming charges or to rent a SIM card — provided you own an unlocked device.

Eventually, we took a train to London. There, our hotel also wanted 15 Pounds per day for Internet access, which just so happened to go down for a critical five hour period where my husband was scheduled to make an important Skype call back to the United States. We had already used up the 100MB daily allotment through O2, so it was off to the streets in a frantic attempt to find an open Wi-Fi hotspot. Considering that we had no mobile Internet to guide us, we were forced to remain on streets we had visited the day before and knew were well-lit. It was closing in on 9PM, and we had already spent an hour on Regent Street — one of London’s most popular roads — with no luck whatsoever. The Starbucks closed at 8:30PM, and the only coffee shop that we could find with later hours wanted to charge us 5 Pounds for using their Wi-Fi for just 1.5 hours.

In the end, we ended up standing outside of a locked Apple Store door, borrowing their free Wi-Fi long enough to complete a 20 minute phone call. Something that would’ve taken 20 minutes if we had Xcom’s MiFi in our hotel room ended up taking around two hours, and rather than being able to have a private call, everyone on Regent Street could pass by and have a listen.

In France, it was even worse. Hardly any of the signage is in English, which left us with little choice but to Google Map something in our room and then write down instructions before heading out. We were also unable to make Skype calls on the go, as we weren’t able to procure a local SIM here. Unlike the UK, there’s no carrier in France that openly sells prepaid SIM cards with data; it’s possible to get one from SFR, but it takes over a day to activate and it requires fluency in French to sort through a phone menu to have the data feature added.

In the end, I found it interesting that going a week overseas without Xcom’s Global MiFi rental service is the best possible advertisement for the service. It may be easy to assume that “you’ll be fine” without Internet access, but consider the life that most of us lead today. We’re perpetually connected. We rely on Google Maps to get us anywhere. We lose connections with people if email sits around for two days. And as for ponying up for Internet at the hotel? That’s a frustration that no traveler should have to face. Looking back, I would have gladly paid Xcom Global $17 per day to have unlimited access to the Internet both in my hotel and everywhere I traveled to while overseas. Suffice it to say, this has taught me to never leave home without one when traveling abroad — in my mind, it’s just as essential as a passport. If you still have your doubts, you could head overseas for a week and do your best to find the Internet. I wouldn’t recommend it, though.

Travel welcomes multi-generational groups with open, engaging arms

Travel welcomes multi-generational groups

Mom, Dad and the kids like to travel. They like theme parks, resorts and cruises. They like to bring along the grandparents too. It’s nice for the kids to have quality time with the grandparents. It’s even better if the grandparents are buying. Multi-generational travel (3G) is hot and sellers of travel are going after it with every engaging tool they can find.

Many couples in the U.S. work more, make less and struggle with mortgages and bills. In a new, more realistic U.S. economic system that doesn’t allow them to live on maxed-out credit cards, something has got to give. Money they don’t have. Time they have but they give it up to answering emails at night. On the weekends they reach out or engage in other activities to help shore up their employment security in uncertain times.

Heather Scott from babyzone.com says “multigenerational travel experiences are becoming more and more common, especially now as many families struggle to take time out of both parents’ work schedules to spend not just with their children, but with grandparents and other family members.”

Grandma and Grandpa, on the other hand, have both time and money. They can go on vacation just about any time and have the money to pay for the whole group. (Remember, this is the greedy generation that caused this mess.) They also are more physically fit, able to do more and will probably live longer than the grandparents of yesteryear.

Multi-generational Travel is increasing and it’s a good match for grand parents that don’t see enough of the grandkids anyway and Mom and Dad who otherwise wouldn’t be going on vacation at all. Parents like that price tag and like having the Grandparents along for built-in babysitters too.

Theme parks, all-inclusive resorts and cruise lines are courting the 3G market like never before. Mommy-bloggers get front row seats to everything Disney and other theme-park operators have to offer. They know Mom’s opinion, as direct caretaker of the kids, weighs heavy on the vacation decision-making regardless of who is paying. They want Mom on their side and promote their brands to her on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets with gusto.

Cruise lines too are going after the 3G bunch with increased interest. The cruise industry evolving and settling in to more detailed individual branding. At first it was “Go on a cruise” as the industry worked to swing vacationers from land-based vacations. Not long ago it was “Go on OUR cruise” Right now it’s “Go on OUR cruise and bring your family” as lines are target families of all shapes and sizes, going after their business in some unique ways.

Starting out 2011 with an engaging bang, Carnival Cruise Lines became official confetti sponsor for New York’s Times Square New Years celebration. In that defining event, the line dropped a ton of confetti on the crowd at midnight and social engagement became a huge part of what they do.

Much of that confetti came from visitors to Times Square who stopped by the line’s “wishing wall”. There, they hand-wrote their hopes and dreams for 2011 on red, white and blue slips of paper included in the drop onto party-goers. It doesn’t get a whole lot more engaging than that.

Not that social efforts are something new to Carnival, John Heald’s Blog written by the lines highly-visible senior cruise director dates back to 2007, draws thousands of fans daily and provides the cruise line with a non-corporate voice to deliver their message.

They are not the only ones either. Princess Cruises thoughtfully entered the social arena with their Twitter #FollowMeAtSea trips where travel bloggers and writers were sponsored for an actual cruise to share with followers on Twitter and Facebook. I was on the last one, a 12-day cruise tour through Alaska last June that travelers still ask about today.

Princess has evolved their efforts now to include their 50 Essential Experiences: The Travel Bucket List blog. The weekly posts that will run for a year are written by their own destination experts about some place that Princess sails to. The deeply personal posts as well as background on their writers are resonating with readers who spread the unique content to like-minded friends via Twitter and Facebook.

Royal Caribbean International too is engaging potential 3D travelers in another unique way.

Called the “Ocean Views” film project, Hollywood’s James Brolin, Jenny McCarthy and a boat load of stars recently wrapped up shooting a series of original short films as Hollywood goes to sea on board Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.

McCarthy’s film is called “The Allure of Love” and tells the story of two friends and their plan to get two exes back together.

Brolin directs and stars in “Royal Reunion,” a short film about a multi-generational family voyage on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.

The cruise line hopes the series attracts a variety of audiences, including those who may not have otherwise shown interest in taking a cruise vacation.

“In today’s ever-changing digital landscape, it’s important to recognize that consumers are getting their information from a variety of channels,” said Betsy O’Rourke, SVP Marketing, Royal Caribbean International.

The two films debut today on Allure of the Seas followed by a release to the general public via Royal Caribbean’s website and YouTube channel at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time. Later, the line will host Jenny McCarthy(@jennymccarthy) along with Justin Baldoni (@justinbaldoni), Amy Yasbeck (@amyyasbeck4real) and Scott Elrod (@scott_elrod) to discuss the films and their experiences onboard Allure of the Seas. Join the party by following #OceanViews on Twitter and follow host @RoyalCaribbean.

Flickr photo by JPott

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Rant: mobile broadband speeds, data limits and prices

mobile broadband speedsIt isn’t often that we post rants here on Gadling (unless it involves airport security), but recent developments in mobile broadband have annoyed me enough that the time has come to post an angry rant.

Mobile broadband is in many ways a travelers best friend – it replaced dial-up on the road, it powers the data hungry appetite of our smartphones, and it makes it possible for bloggers to post rants no matter where they are.

Mobile data has been around since the mid 90’s – when it launched as a wireless way to get dial-up like speeds.

You had to bring your own ISP, and had to invest in a pricey mobile modem card. In 1997, I handed over $1400 to get my hands on a Nokia phone and PCMCIA modem card.

It quickly became my best friend on the road (and a sure way to burn through my minutes). Then, in the early parts the new millennium, mobile operators began to act as the ISP, selling data packages as add-ons to your mobile subscription.At first, these were used to access mini web sites using WAP or I-MODE. Then, when technology evolved, it allowed mobile phones to connect to laptops using Infra-Red, Serial and then Bluetooth. Speeds increased from 9.6kbit/s to a more reasonable 54kbit/s. Then EDGE and 1x (on CDMA networks) came along, and we sped things up to 144kbit/s. After that, 3G became the new buzzword, and speeds have been increasing ever since.

The latest buzzword is of course 4G, and if you believe the commercials, every one of the mobile operators offers the absolute fastest 4G network in the country. Some have hired attractive women to promote their speeds, others simply point out how they are better than anyone else and how you can “rule the air” with their lightning fast service.

Thing is, even though speeds have increased by almost 4500x, the amount of data your mobile operator lets you use each month has not.

The fraud that is “unlimited mobile broadband data”

Almost every operator in the country offers unlimited mobile broadband data. And at the same time, none of them actually do. When you start going through the fine print of your contract, you’ll come across the “acceptable usage policy” or AUP. The AUP says you can use all the data you want, as long as you keep it under a specific limit. On an unlimited plan, the limit is usually 5GB. Go over this, and you’ll either be cut off, charged more see your data speeds getting throttled.

The throttle of uselessness.

Throttling is the motoring equivalent of driving your supercharged Italian sports car without any wheels. Sure, you still have an impressive engine, and it’ll make plenty of noise, but you won’t really go anywhere.

On T-Mobile for example – once you hit their “unlimited” limit of 5GB, your speeds drop down to “EDGE speeds” – the same speeds you got back in 2002, or about 144kbit/s. At these speeds, anything other than basic web content or email is unusable. Forget streaming music or video – and forget loading a large web site in under a minute.

Speeds have increased, but guess what has not…

mobile broadband speeds

As I mentioned earlier – compared to 1998 speeds, the latest technology (HSDPA+ at 42mbit/s on T-Mobile) is 4500x faster. But guess what – even though the Internet has evolved, mobile broadband has been stuck on the 5GB/month limit for over 7 years.

Seven years ago, we didn’t have streaming Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, Slacker or even YouTube. In other words – the entire world has changed, but the mobile operators haven’t realized this.

The limit with no options

This part is the most annoying – once you hit that miserable 5GB limit and get hit with the throttle hammer, you have no options. No matter how much money you offer your operator, you are stuck on the slow train until your new billing month begins.

Sprint and Verizon Wireless are examples of mobile operators that understand how the Internet works – once you go over on their plans, you can pay to stay at full speed. You can do this by switching to a higher plan (up to 10GB) or by paying overages. AT&T Wireless limits you to 5GB, then charges $0.05/MB. Good luck working out the math on that one.

T-Mobile shows how to annoy customers – hit their 5GB limit, and you get a text message with the bad news. Worst of all – their original data transfer limit on Android phones used to be 10GB, but they silently reduced that in 2009.

The mobile operator giveth and the mobile operator taketh away…

mobile broadband speeds

This one annoys me more than anything – the operator that lures customers with their promises of limitless data without throttling, only then to change the rules once enough people have signed up.

Virgin Mobile is the clear winner here – when we reviewed their MiFi mobile hotspot, they were the only 3G operator in the country with absolutely no limits on their data. Their terms and conditions didn’t even mention a fair use policy. Then, out of the blue, they decided that 5GB was plenty for everyone, and implemented the dreaded throttling. To top it all off, they even changed those rules on existing customers and keep the service at the same price. Less for the same – that is how mobile operators make their money.

The best way to hide bad changes to your plans? Confuse the heck out of people with your legalese…

T-Mobile in the U.K. shows how to really screw with your customers – they recently told customers that their current 5GB package would drop to 500MB. The message was simple: deal with it, and download your larger stuff at home. After an intense social media outcry, the operator backed down, and changed the new rules so they’d only apply to new customers. Still – the message was clear: you and your downloads suck.

Bottom line – everyone that invested in the product at the time, got screwed by their mobile operator. With the possible exception of banks, no business can pull stunts like that.

Time to burn through your alloted data package will surprise you…

mobile broadband speeds

When downloading at top speeds back in 2002, it would take you 64 hours of non stop downloading to burn through your EDGE powered mobile broadband allotment of 5GB. Do the same thing on the newest HSDPA+ networks in 2011 and it’ll be gone in 43 minutes. Speed really does come at a price.

On my cable internet service, I get 250GB/month, and pay $45 for that luxury. On one of my stand-alone mobile broadband subscriptions, I pay $59.99, and get 1/50th of that amount. And while I agree that the technology behind mobile broadband and cable Internet is inherently different, once the networks are in place, there is no good reason to offer one fiftieth of data without a good reason. If this doesn’t show how backwards the operators are, nothing will.

What operators need to do is take a close look at the phones they sell…

mobile broadband speeds

In 2002, the average smartphone was a pretty dumb terminal compared to current devices. There was almost no streaming video, no Google Maps, no Qik, no Skype. In fact, the only app that could really downoad a lot of data was the browser – and back then, browsers sucked so much, that you’d have a hard time downloading anything.

As phones improved, we added maps with navigation, video calls and customizable streaming radio stations.

We all know what our phones are capable of – and even though the operators are the ones touting their newest speeds and features – they have apparently failed to realize that people might actually use the speed.

What we really need is for operators to wake up and start offering the speeds that match the Internet. If 5GB was enough in 2007, we really should be offered 10GB or 15GB in 2011.