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Rick's Internet Gadget

I saw a video of one of Rick's lectures where he mentions a cellular-based internet device that he carries despite its expense. I looked up a number of similar products on Amazon (they cost about $150 or so plus data charges). But I don't really understand what is the advantage of these devices. You can buy a SIM card in Europe, or even while you are still in the US before leaving. These internet devices might have an additional feature of extra juice, but that can be accomplished via a dedicated external battery for $20. I am always looking for a better/smoother way of getting internet to my phone/ipad on the road. Any hints about the advantages of these products would be appreciated.

Posted by
2526 posts

Might you be referring to a mobile hotspot device which allows WiFi enabled devices to connect through it to the Internet? If so, many devices could be connected rather than buying a SIM card for each. Are there savings? I guess so.

Posted by
5152 posts

So does it work on its own to access the internet, or do you need a phone or other device to work with it?

Posted by
5152 posts

Thanks, Emma. I thought maybe it was like a phone, but limited to internet. Like a tiny little computer, but dedicated to internet.

Pardon my ignorance, folks. I'm computer literate, but years behind the times.

Posted by
164 posts

Thanks - yes MIFI.

In the US, I can use a single iPhone as a hotspot for a laptop or iPad. However, now that I think about it, I recall having a German SIM card, and it now allowing for the phone to be used as a hotspot. So that makes sense. If you want to respond to email on a laptop in the park mid-day, this is the thing.

But you still have to buy a SIM card right? And it has a total amount of data usage?

Are there recommended SIM cards?

Posted by
1179 posts

It’s probably a MiFi. It provides data like a WiFi to internet devices. This is done with a SIM card through a cellular provider.

Nowadays many phones have a mobile hotspot in them. You can connect your internet device that way. The problem with mobile hotspots is that the base data rate is slow. You can get faster rates but it will cost you.

The MiFi usually has faster data rates. That might be needed for VPN connections or activities that have high data rates such as video.

Posted by
5766 posts

Pretty sure the reference is to a "pocket wifi" device. I first used one of these in Japan a few years ago (and there, it's awesome, if a bit expensive). Basically, it connects to the local cellular network and provides wifi to as many devices as you want to connect to it. The one I used in Japan worked on multiple Japanese cell company networks (it picked whatever was the fastest available where you were). But it only worked in Japan (and, somewhat oddly, you couldn't buy one, you had to rent one - that was due to Japan's odd restrictions on foreigners owning cellular devices). You can now rent one of these in many places (including Europe).

There's now a newer generation of these things that work in multiple countries. The idea is that you buy the device, and then you purchase "time" on the system. The device will connect to whatever local cell network there is available where you are - in most countries worldwide. When you cross a border or land in a new country, it takes a few minutes to figure out where it is, what networks are available there, and then connects to (what it thinks) is the fastest available network. You connect your devices to your pocket wifi device (wirelessly - it's wifi) then those devices can surf the web. It's for data only - not phone calls (although its possible to make calls via an app - but data speeds and limits may compromise that experience, see below).

There are several of these available from different companies. None are perfect. All are a bit expensive, but they do have their advantages and disadvantages.

I have owned two of them (I would not really recommend either unless you are up for some challenges and have deep pockets). That said, I do now travel with one and it often works (sometimes it doesn't; and sometimes it works but is painfully slow).

Advantages: You never have to hassle with buying a local SIM to get online (IME sometimes getting a local SIM is easy and cheap; sometimes it's neither). If your trip involves multiple countries, this can really simplify things. It also eliminates any hassles you might have after returning home and switching back to your home SIM card (because you never switch SIM cards).

Disadvantages: Expensive. You have to buy the device ($100-$300 IIRC), then you have to buy air time (the one I use costs $8-$10 per day - on a long trip, it adds up quickly). Data usage is throttled and is sometimes painfully slow. While they advertise a fast 4G connection, there are caveats: first, like any phone, it's only going to connect to whatever cellular network it can find - which in many places may be slow (sometimes stunningly slow). It also only connects to the cell networks that they have negotiated contracts with, so in some places there may be Company A's super-fast network available, but they only work with Company B, which is slower. Also, when a fast connection is available, they "throttle" data use: after you use a certain amount of 4G data, they slow you waaaaay down for the rest of the day. This means the service is terrible for anything that gulps lots of bandwidth: streaming video or uploading lots of high rez photos, other "cloud" services. Fine for sending email, less than fine for some other things. Can also be technically glitchy at times - the unit I have was horrible to set up (cumbersome, complex, and setup failed for days - and I work in IT - their support was non-existant, I was getting error messages in Chinese popping up...not a good sign); I occasionally have to fight with it a bit to activate the (expensive) airtime that I purchased. It's not always a smooth experience.

I expect these will mature in the next few years and will become reliable and easy (but will probably still be a bit expensive).

Hope that helps.

Posted by
5697 posts

Sounds like something you might buy if you have a company to run (and to charge off a business expense) but not worth it just to watch cat videos from a park bench.

Posted by
1364 posts

If you want to try one out, many public libraries are loaning them out now in an effort to bridge the digital divide. Doubt they will work overseas though; at my library & workplace, the hotspot is setup to work only in Ontario, and I imagine most libraries have set it up similarly. But it would be a way to give one a try for free.