Mobile WiFi in Europe
Free WiFi isn’t everywhere just yet. Bring a mobile hotspot (MiFi) with you.
When we landed in Almeria, Spain, I knew my friend’s house didn’t have WiFi. I need to be online on a regular basis and sipping tea in a cafe gets old when you don’t really want tea and you don’t really want to be in a cafe–you just need a little WiFi.
At the rental car counter there was a little display of a mobile WiFi device for rent. (I’m so immune to pretty much any and all advertising, it’s like I have a browser pop-up ad blocker built into my brain … an idea for Google Glass?) But this was that rare case when something advertised was something that I actually would benefit from. It was 7 Euros per day. I thought that 7 Euros per day would be worth it to not have to find a cafe (or piggyback on an unsuspecting neighbor) for a week. Plus, it was not a big town we were going to, that might be a long search. Finally, I knew I had an important conference call where I needed to call in with Skype.
Very unlike me, I decided on the spot and got it. 49 Euros and my WiFi searching for the week was taken care of. They took a 50 Euro deposit for the little device and it would start working anywhere we were, even in the car. Cool.
This might even be better than getting a new SIM card in your old phone … right?
I last wrote about how I used an old iPhone and a new SIM card and 7.50 Euros and I had a working Dutch number and could text and even get online (although only online in Holland, I learned later). Still, to call into a U.S. number for a 1.5-hour conference call was going to cost me, hmm, 90 minutes at maybe $0.75 or $1/minute? Hmm, not great.
Sure, I could expense it and all that, but remember: I’m in this at least as much for the technical challenge as I am to save money.
Turns out that the WiFi device worked best … by the pool. As unfortunate as that was, I made do. I brought my towel, my laptop, my phone, and my WiFi device and found a shady spot under an evergreen and got everything ready for my call. I dialed in with Skype on my iPhone (calling a regular number with Skype is something like a penny per minute), had the presentation ready on my laptop (shared in Google Docs) and kept an eye on the little gauge that said if I had a 3G connection or not. Sometimes it went to “H” … which maybe stood for Hola! As in, “Hola, time to get another phone!”
It worked great. My only problem was that it was windy out and my microphone caught lots of wind. My colleague and client on the phone were still laughing as I told them about my entire technical set up and that it only worked at the pool, so the wind was quickly forgotten.
When we left Almeria, I had to give back the WiFi device. But I didn’t really want to. I thought, “The WiFi device is actually even more useful than a phone with a SIM card because I can connect multiple devices and have Internet.” This means I could do Skype (for calling) use WhatsApp for messaging with European friends (they all use WhatsApp, not their regular text provider), and have WiFi with us all the time. Texting, especially with WhatsApp is even more useful than having a phone number.
Please note: I’m the last guy who wants to be Everywhere and Always On. This now classifies as research.
This has now become something of a technical challenge for me … and I’m always up for a challenge. Especially geeky ones that actually help someone other than myself. A bit of shopping around and I found Droam. Cute video below (in Dutch) explains how it works. In fact, video is so well done, you barely need the Dutch, you get the idea … especially the guy trying to piggyback off of the neighbor’s 10th story WiFi!
The name is kinda funny (if you speak Dutch) because although I read that it’s supposed to stand for “data roaming,” it’s very close to the Dutch word “droom” which means dream. Dreamy, cloud, Internet. I like it.
So I haven’t actually used the product, but I read a few more reviews on it and it sounds like people had the same experience as my Spanish car rental WiFi device: usually good speeds, good battery life, 5 devices, works anywhere, cheaper than what you’d pay to data roam using your provider back home (by a long shot). In all, next time I’m in the market, I’ll certainly look at Droam.
In free WiFi news, in Almeria, free WiFi (or even paid in a cafe) was almost nowhere to be found. Now that we’re in Barcelona, it’s surprisingly popping up everywhere. Even on the beach, then in a museum.