XCom Global, watch out. There’s now a competing international wireless hotspot rental company which is an even better deal for longer trips, or for folks originating in the U.K. Tep Wireless feeds your need for smartphone and laptop data while abroad, without running up insane roaming fees. It’s a great choice if you’re traveling to countries the service covers, and joins the XCom Global to share our Editors’ Choice for international hotspots.
Having Internet access when you’re abroad can be a huge help. Wi-Fi hotspots in much of Europe are rarer than they are in the U.S. and the U.K. Hotel Internet can be expensive, and it only works in your hotel. On a recent trip to Spain, I found myself checking Google Maps and the local transit Web site constantly. With a hotspot you might not even need a local SIM card or a world-compatible phone, as you can use Skype or another VOIP service over the hotspot.
Tep Wireless rents Huawei E585 hotspots on the Three network for much of Europe (although not Poland or Scandinavia), Australia, New Zealand, 10 Asian countries, Mexico, and South Africa. That’s far short of the 175 countries XCom supports, but it includes many popular destinations.
You can order one in as little as three days before your trip, and your hotspot will be overnighted to you. (If you’re coming from or going to the U.K., you can also pick it up at Heathrow Airport.) Use the hotspot when you’re away, and send it back when you get home using an included, prepaid mailer. It’s easy.
My Tep package came with a hotspot, USB cable, plug adapters for Europe and the U.K., and various manuals, all in a little zippered pouch. The hotspot was a little scratched from previous use but not damaged. It’s easy to swap in a second battery by popping off the back cover.
The E585 has an OLED screen on the front which shows useful information such as signal strength, battery, and data consumption in the current session. I really prefer that to XCom’s older Novatel MiFis, which force you to go to a Web portal to get that information. Still, though, if you want to know your overall data consumption, you need to ask Tep via email or online chat.
Usage was very simple. I turned on the hotspot, connected my laptop and mobile phone, and I was good to go. The hotspot supports up to 5 devices at once.
I got decent speeds on this 7.2Mbps HSDPA modem of 2.5-3.5Mbps down. That’s nothing to write home about, maybe, but certainly good enough to write home with. Upload speeds maxed out around 1Mbps, so content creation professionals may want to find a faster link to do things like upload videos. That’s still good enough for Skype, though.
Interestingly, the modem thought I was in the Czech Republic the entire time, setting my Google locale to google.cz, for instance. That didn’t affect ordinary Web browsing, but it throws a curve for sites like Netflix which require a specific geographic location.
Pricing and Service Plans
Tep has a very confusing pricing structure where the price per day declines as you add days. The company also offers shifting data plans starting at 250MB for the length of your trip, with various increases and add-ons. There’s a useful calculator on Tep’s Web site, but I’ve included some comparisons below. These prices include shipping.
I consider two of Tep’s options mandatory: a second battery and “unlimited” data. The E585′s battery lasts for three to four hours of continuous use, or seven hours or so of sporadic use. That’s par for the course with hotspots, and it’s not quite enough to get through a workday.
As for “unlimited” data, it isn’t truly unlimited, but nobody wants to be left worrying about their data usage during a busy international trip, if they can afford it. No hotspot rental service offers truly unlimited data. But Tep’s “unlimited” plan gives you 300MB per day rented in Europe, or 400MB per day rented in other countries, with a maximum of about 7GB/month. That’s enough for anything except mad movie downloading.
With the extra battery, “unlimited” data, and U.S. delivery, Tep’s prices are almost exactly the same as XCom’s. If you ditch the second battery, subtract $5.95/day. Tep gives daily discounts as your rental period gets longer, though, so Tep’s rates become sharply better on trips longer than 14 days.
We’re living in a connected world, and it’s hard to go on an international trip without being connected. AT&T and Verizon now offer affordable plans for roaming smartphone data, both around $25 for 100MB. For AT&T and T-Mobile users, SIM cards like Maxroam also have decent rates for small-to-middling amounts of multi-country roaming data. If you plan to do multi-device heavy lifting and laptop surfing, though, you’ll want a hotspot with a larger data allowance.
I highly recommend both Tep and XCom for wireless hotspot rentals. (Both are better than Cellular Abroad, which charges more for less service.) The OLED display on Tep’s hotspot puts it a bit ahead of XCom in the countries where it’s available, but of course XCom works in many more countries. If you’re traveling for business and you can’t afford to be disconnected, you need to grab one of these two services.
More Cellular Modem reviews:
|Cellular Technology||HSDPA 7.2|
|Number of Devices Supported||5|
|Bands||850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc