Internet Access.

In 2015 almost all overlanders keep in contact via the Internet when traveling. At a minimum most people want (need?) to keep in touch by email, whilst others make extensive use of social media and/or publish a blog.

Ten years ago getting connected to the Internet in many countries was difficult, even in major towns, today it is relatively easy and relatively cheap. However it is still worth considering the options, their costs and risks.

In a few parts of the world the Internet Café is still an option, but in most places it's days are numbered. This leaves, in order of increasing cost, three main options for accessing the Internet.

Public WiFi, Mobile Phone/Wireless Broadband and Satellite.

Public WiFi

The good thing about public WiFi is that it can be free and fast, the bad thing is that it is often hard to find, not where you want it, and may not be free nor fast nor secure.

If all you want to do is check your email on your smartphone then popping into (or standing just outside) Starbucks or McDonald to use their WiFi may be all you need. However without a VPN (Virtual Private Network) you should not do anything even remotely confidential. (Personally I would not use a public WiFi hotspot without a VPN.)

There are several inter-related risks in using a Public WiFi hotspot. If it is unencrypted (i.e. you don't need a password to access the network) then anybody can intercept anything you send or receive over the connection. Even if the network is encrypted then anybody with the network password can intercept anything you send or receive. This, of course, includes the "owner" of the hotspot, who may or may not be trustworthy and may or may not be who you think he is. Anybody can create a WiFi hotspot called "Starbucks Free".

A VPN creates an encrypted link between your smartphone or computer and a "remote server" on the Internet. The "remote server" may well be in a different country and this can sometimes be an advantage when you wish to access services normally restricted to a particular geographic area.

The are many VPN services around but you could start with Private Internet Access which costs around $40.00 USA per year.

Most WiFi hotspots are only usable from within about 50 metres with a normal WiFi antennae as found inside a smartphone or laptop. However you may be able to use an external high gain WiFi antennae to access a WiFi hotspot from up to 1Km away. I have once been able to make reliable use of "free" WiFi from over 2Km away (admittedly across water from a high vantage point).

One other, unrelated, advantage of using this type of external WiFi modem and antennae is that the WiFi hotspot (Access Point) sees only the MAC address of the external modem (not of your laptop) this means that even where access is limited to one device you can still alternate between two or more laptops, providing they all use the same external modem.

Mobile Phone/Wireless Broadband

Within most of Europe it is easy to use your smartphone with a European SIM card to access the local mobile networks, and, since 2015, it has become relatively inexpensive to do so. Outside Europe things can get considerably more complex and expensive.

In most countries outside Europe you will need to buy a local SIM card (one for each country!), if used in your smartphone this should give you phone, text (SMS) and data access. However it will also give you a new (local) phone number and you may have difficulty buying the SIM card because of local "security" rules without a local address (in Australia for example).

Many SIM plans will prevent you from tethering (i.e. using your phone to provide Internet access to another device (e.g. your computer or your partner's smartphone) either by USB cable or WiFi). Some of these problems can be overcome by using a "MiFi" (mobile WiFi device).

A "MiFi" combines in one small (often battery powered) device a 2/3/4G wireless receiver, SIM card, router, NAT, firewall and WiFi access poont. What this means is that you purchase a single local data SIM card and you can then access the Internet with all your WiFi enabled devices.

An alternative to the all-in-one "Mifi" is one that splits the functionality in two, with the 2/3/4G wireless reciver in a USB broadband modem and the remaining functions in a battery powered router. (e.g. Zoom 3G/4G Wireless-N Travel Router). This approach has a number of advantages particularly in countries that use non-standard settings for their 2/3/4G wireless systems.

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2015-02-10