Let's face it, we live in a world where data and online services are in many ways becoming as important as voice. But voice still remains important. While I've been able to take the pain out of mobile roaming with Truphone Local Anywhere and softclients from Skype, Counterpath and yes, the GizmoVoice/Google Voice client that wasn't ever released to the masses, as well as similar softphones on my smartphones, we still need other ways to stay in touch without breaking the bank.
Phone Numbers in Other Countries.
Client Voxbone is one of the largest, if not the largest suppliers of DIDs around the globe and many of the leading Internet Telephony Service Providers (ITSPs) rely on them for local in country numbers. For years I've had numbers that have come from their numbering pools via ITSPs that allows me to have an "in country presence" without being there. What I've been doing is routing those DID through my Gizmo account which is SIP based meaning every call in the countries I frequent have been local calls to it, and then cross it over to Google Voice at no charge, I've then returned my calls from there that landed in the GrandCentral/Google Voice mailbox, all at the expense of Google. This is not that hard to do, but until GoogleVoice opens up their SIP ID's without an existing GizmoVoice account, you're out of luck. But, what you can do is buy in country DIDs from an ITSP (I prefer CallCentric) and buy a series of numbers that go to the people you regularly call and make local calls to them. This is great and only suggested if you are in a country regularly and make a lot of calls to the same number, like your company's main switchboard or as a way into your company's PBX. Not far off from this concept is Skype To Go. Skype to go lets you designate a phone number and have it call a series of dedicated destinations and Skype buddies by dialing a local number.
WiFi Access While Standing Still
WiFi remains perhaps the most efficient way of staying online, if you know what you're doing. First tool in the WiFi tool kit is Boingo. Yes, they are a client, but I've been a Boingo user and fan since almost the day they started and I've been paying for accounts even while they're a client because I believe so much in what they provide to the global nomad and road warrior crowd. As the world's largest roaming network of WiFi hotspots no other provider comes close at being the Swiss Army Knife of connectctivty. Let me first outline how I use Boingo and then go through other WiFi options:
On my laptops I use the Boingo client to log on at most of the Boingo hotspot locations. In their 58 airport locations that they own and operate their software makes logging on a snap. Now, here's a key tip. Not all Boingo roaming locations work with the Boingo Client. By roaming, I am referring to hotspots deployed and managed by other operators. But, logging on at those locations is no harder than navigating through the sign-on pages and finding the roaming pull down tab, and then selecting Boingo. From their the walled garden sign on system they deploy to their roaming partners asks for your username and password and off you go. This is normal for me to have to do in Orly Airport in Paris and at Barcelona and Madrid International Airports. As an international traveler I pay for the higher priced Boingo Global plan. Yes, it's more expensive compared to their $9.95 Boingo Unlimited Plan that is valid in the Americas only but if I used the maximum number of minutes (2000 in a month) in say Europe without it, my costs would be $360.00. Game over, as the savings is $300.00 a month. Since I make at least four trips a year to Europe (usually five or six the last few years) the $59.95 a month plan at $720 a year is still a savings over hotel access charges where in some hotels is 25 euros a day. That means the cost of a two day hotel stay's WiFi access has paid for my connectivity for an entire month. Since I stay in hotels more than 24 nights a year in places that have those kind of rates, Boingo is easily at break even or in my case, a far better deal when you add in airport, cafe and hotel locations as Boingo makes it easy and so cost efficient.
On my mobile phones, iPod and iPad I make extensive use of three Boingo accounts I have that are Boingo Mobile which at $7.95 a month is a no-brainer if you are a mobile data or mobile VoIP user. Like on my Mac I use the Boingo Mobile Client to jump on Boingo hotspots. On my Nokia N-95, E71 and N810 (yes I have one of those and still think it was the best palmtop ever made) I can surf the web, read and reply to email and use the auto connect feature of the Boingo client to latch on and both place and receive Truphone calls using the Truphone application on the N-95 and E-71 or my choice of ISTP or Skype on the N810. The luxury of using Boingo Mobile on the Nokia phones is the auto-log on feature of the Boingo account that is resident and operational, as long as you have WiFi scanning turned on. This means that calls to me that are routed via my USA Truphone application number, or calls made via Truphone on the Nokias are part of my Truphone Unlimited Plan.
FON-I've not been a fan of FON that much as many readers know, but on my last trip to Paris I became a convert. The model is the cooperative or communal model of connectivity. If you're a FON hotspot operator you can get on any FON hotspot for free. If not, you simply pay. And paying is as easy as sending an SMS if you have a local country mobile phone, even one that's pre-paid, and you have enough credit. If you're spending time in cities or areas where FON has a heavy presence buying the low cost router and leaving it turned on back home isn't a bad idea. With hotspots located in the UK, France and Spain in quantity and roaming relationships with the likes of BT, if you're willing to share your home broadband with others, buying a FON isn't a bad way to go.
T-Mobile Hotspot-I've had an account since this service launched, and while its value has been reduced by their pulling back in the USA, there are still plenty of places where I find their locations, some of which are not roaming partner capable yet. Dollar for dollar, their hotspots in the USA are the best around, and like Boingo, as a member of the Broadband Wireless Alliance, they too provide roaming in places that sometimes Boingo doesn't. For that reason, I look at the two services as complimentary, but over time I can see this service being dropped as Boingo has not in anyway, shape or form stopped growing, but T-Mobile has.
Hotel WiFi-the odds of having great connectivity in hotels is as predictable as the weather in London or Seattle on any given day or day-part. You just never know. I've become less and less enamored with it in most "business" hotels and have begun staying in the more boutique like properties found in Tablet Hotels. For example, the Hotel 1000 in Seattle did the smart thing and brought in XO Communications and added a 100 meg fiber drop to their property. My stays there have proven that building out connectivity the right way makes for a happy guest. Other hotels like the Andaz in London have amazing connectivity provided by InterTouch, a DoCoMo company, as do most, if not all of the Sofitel's around France and my favorite Parisian hideout, MamaShelter. I give up the convenience and high price of being in downtown Paris for the amazing bandwidth, funky and hip surroundings of the Philip Stark designed hideaway up in Paris's 20th. With great food and drinks in the restaurant, thin crust pizza from their own pizzaria and the rock solid 5 megs per room connectivity, I'm hooked up and happy in Paris.
WiFi Access On The Go
Let's face it, we're part of a mobile society, and WiFi access to 3G has become a reality. Sure you can tether your iPhone, Android or Nokia phones very easily now either natively or with an application like JoikuSpot. As long as you're already paying for 3G data on your mobile phone tethering is a great way to go for light use of your laptop. But if you're going to be spending lots of time on the go, then a PocketSpot and a 3G/4G plan is a great investment.
Here in the USA in markets where Clearwire is operating, no one beats their 4G speeds. Over the past few weeks I've used my Sprint Overdrive in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Franklin, TN on Clearwire's 4G network and have been more than pleased with the connectivity, low to no latency and ease of connectivity. If there is one drawback, it's battery life on the Overdrive. I'm also not overwhelmed by Sprint's speeds as their consistency is lacking from market to market on 3G. There either a MiFi from Verizon or AT&T comes in handy. Since I'm a global nomad, the unlocked Novatel Wireless MiFi USA edition or the global version which I use.
3G Data Dongles/USB Sticks
I've been using a combination of data dongles since they first were invented. Driver issues, Mac compatibility problems (that still seem to pop up now and then) have always been a concern, but they do work. But with Pocketspots the need for them is waining as why only connect one device when you can connect more. What does make sense though is to buy the dongles in countries you are going to be traveling in, with a PrePaid SIM card, add the credit you think you'll need and then pop the SIM into the Novatel MiFi 2352. You will need to know the settings, but those are easily found on the PrePaid Data Wiki.
iPhones and iPads
Let's face it, the more you use the iPhone the more you become hooked on the apps. When it comes to the iPad, I'm even more hooked. If you have a 3G iPad they are sold unlocked, but getting a SIM that works with the iPad on a pre-paid basis in some countries isn't always easy. I've succeeded in the UK with 02 as the carrier, but the rest of the UK providers have very strict rules on selling SIMs only to in-country residents. The same seems to apply across the EU, but I expect that to change as the iPad becomes more widely available and the Micro SIM's do too. (note Cubic Telecom does sell a roaming micro SIM)
Staying connected isn't hard when you're on the go. It just takes some planning.