In the second part in our series about using mobile broadband abroad, we look at the pros and cons of the different ways of accessing the internet while you’re on holiday.
If you read the first feature in this series, you’ll have learned about the different options open to travellers and holidaymakers who need to access the internet abroad – and you’ll have found there are four main ways to get online.
But the best option for you really depends on where you go abroad, for how long and – of course – how much internet access you need.
As there’s no one-size-fits-all option, you need to weigh up the the best way for you get online to update your relatives, keep work at bay and share those holiday snaps.
To help you, we examine the pros, cons and convenience of each way of accessing the internet while you’re on holiday.
1. Using your current mobile tariff
Using your current mobile tariff means simply taking your phone abroad and using it to access the internet.
Pros: Using your current mobile tariff when on holiday doesn’t require any extra legwork – it’s already in place.
This means you don’t have to pay for a bolt-on service or buy extra hardware like a dongle to access the internet abroad.
Cons: The cost. If you’re on a contract, your current tariff is likely to come bundled with free minutes, texts – and data. But that’s just within the UK. The moment you head overseas, you’ll pay extra for all of those and the costs will soar.
And with modern smartphones accessing the internet in the background, sometimes without a user’s knowledge, just turning your phone can turn it into a financial liability.
What you can do to save: If you don’t want to come home to an inflated phone bill, you can take extreme measures and ask a technician to disable roaming on your phone or tablet entirely. This means you can still use it abroad, but you won’t get a signal or data, unless you’re connected to Wi-Fi.
Otherwise, your best option is a bolt-on charge like the Data Traveller tariff from Vodafone. At £2 a day for 25MB (in Europe), it’s still expensive compared to what you pay at home, but it’s a fraction of the £1 per megabyte on a standard Vodafone tariff.
2. Getting a bolt-on service
A bolt-on service is a special package you add to your existing mobile phone tariff – and it’s designed to keep your internet costs lower while on holiday abroad.
Pros: The cost. Adding a special data roaming service to your mobile tariff will save you money compared to standard rates. And if you use a lot of data, you could end up saving a substantial amount.
Cons: It’s a separate purchase which you have to activate and it comes on top of your existing mobile contract.
What you can do to save: If you know how much data you’re likely to need and for how long, many of these services give you the opportunity to adjust roaming tariffs to suit you. With Vodafone, a frequent traveller can choose to pay £10 a month regardless of whether they’re at home or abroad rather than £2 a day just when they’re abroad – for the same 25MB per day ration within Europe.
3. Using Wi-Fi
Using Wi-Fi means you rely on wireless internet while you’re on holiday.
Pros: Using Wi-Fi abroad is significantly cheaper and most often faster than using a 3G internet connection. And these days, many more hotels, cafes and restaurants are offering it free to their customers.
Cons: Wi-Fi availability is very localised, so once you leave the hotel or coffee shop, you’ll be back on a 3G connection or have no mobile internet at all until you can find another hotspot.
This is changing, though. Major US cities like San Francisco have laid out plans to turn the entire city into a Wi-Fi hotspot – changing the way residents access data, and taking some of the increasing data burden off the mobile operators.
What you can do to save: Use Wi-Fi whenever possible and do as much of your work that requires an internet connection while you’re in a hotspot.
Both Android phones and iPhones have apps available that list the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot to your location and give you directions – which can help save you money when you need to access the internet.
4. Buying a mobile broadband dongle
Who said mobile internet connections were just for mobiles? A dongle means you can bring mobile broadband to your laptop.
Pros: You can give your laptop internet access wherever there is a 3G connection available.
Cons: Your data usage is usually subject to the same kinds of rules and tariffs as mobile phones and tablets when you travel abroad. And with the built-in 3G available in today’s tablet computers – and their growing capabilities – mobile broadband dongles are becoming less relevant to travellers.
What you can do to save: Only use your dongle when you absolutely have to – otherwise hold out for a Wi-Fi hotspot.
With most mobile operators also offering special data plans just for mobile broadband dongles, it also pays to compare prices and find out which operator provides the most traveller-friendly service.
With all these options available to travellers, it’s up to you to decide how much data you’re likely to need – and what you need to do with it.
But with the EU clamping down on exorbitant roaming costs and countries like Sweden already introducing 4G LTE technology, the good news for travellers is that whatever device you’re using – your data is likely to get cheaper in the future.