Travel: Data / Mobile Wifi

This is my experience with Mobile Data. We change the ways we stay connected, hopefully this will help you.

It’s such a connected world that when we travel, one of the considerations is to get Wifi or Data connection for our mobile phone, tablets or laptops. Many people just pay the telco the roaming fees. If we are on work trips, we just roam and the company pays. If we are on personal trip, we don’t want to pay the rates that telco charge for roaming. If you have been bitten once by the telco, you would not want to pay them any more!

Telcos charge like $15 a day for unlimited roaming for many popular countries. If you are going for 10 days that would be $150 per person. If your wife, kids or parents need the data too, it might be a few hundred dollars! Telcos also have data plans that you can subscribe to, those we think are good if your company pays for it, not from your own pocket.

So for our travels in the last few years, we have always bought local cards from the countries and put them into a Mifi (Mobile Wifi) . It is a cheaper way to get connected when we are away from the hotel’s Wifi.


Why a Mifi? 

– Cheaper. Just 1 data card is needed, and we can share the connection with 4-5 other devices.
– Convenient. Our phones behave as if it’s in Singapore (in our case). No need to keep changing the SIM cards. (eg, Singapore and London/Paris SIM)
– Almost like roaming. Our phone numbers are our Singapore numbers, so we are still able to receive Singapore calls or receive Singapore SMS. (If you plug in a overseas SIM card, your number changes) It’s just like roaming without the exorbitant charges. We can still use Whatsapp, Viber etc, so it behaves as if you are at home.

(You got to remember to switch off all unnecessary app that consume data, as the phone thinks it is at home, when wifi is on and just push most things to the cloud automatically. If you bought enough data, then it’s ok.)

This is our scenario and doesn’t work for others, it depends on your needs. If you are going to make lots of local calls, then it’s best to just get a local SIM and plug it into another phone. We want to have our Singapore number because we do get phone calls or SMS from airlines (last minute changes, home, banks (telling you of a credit card transaction).

We have always been using our trusted Huawei Mifi that has travelled with us to many countries over the last few years. I bought the Mifi probably 4-5 years ago and this Mifi cost around SGD130. We have used it without any difficulty in Hong Kong, London, Paris and all over Malaysia. The data SIM in the photo below are proof.

There are many models of Mifi out there, we got a 3G version because most prepaid cards then were only  3G and you are not going to run intensive data transfer. To prove to myself that it’s good enough, I did remote desktop to my office before! It was struggling but it worked.

There was only once that I had to log into the Mifi’s web interface to edit the APN, so that it would work in Paris. The thing about the telcos in France is that the data connection will take 24-48 hours to be activated. You can read about all the frustrations on the various travel forums. I got the connections to get it working, but that would be another post another day when I managed to dig out the old config I put in. : Roaming Data

The most recent trip (March 2014) to Perth Australia, we brought our Mifi along, and since the Perth Airport only had a Vodafone store, we got the SIM card from them. They offered many different plans, but we got a data card plan. It’s the Data card with 3GB of data (valid for 1 month) for AUD30. We thought this would be more for this two of us.

(We initially thought we would get the $2 a day Optus option, but many people have told us, it’s not really $2 a day, read the fine lines. You would have to keep topping up if you used a lot of data.)

We plug the SIM into the Mifi but it got connected to the telco’s signal, but it was not streaming out data. It’s like the Paris scenario. I think we need to find out and update the APN manually. No, we just landed and did not want to do that.


Why Wi-Fi Hotspot from an Android phone?

So we thought we shall use our Xiaomi RedMi that we recently bought for only SGD160. It’s my first Android phone and the cheapest one I could find and it’s quite decent too! We were glad we brought it along. We plug in the SIM and it got connected to the telco and the phone started to receive data as well. It worked flawlessly and all we needed to do was to turn the inbuilt Wi-Fi hotspot. Wifi

At home, we have two camps. My brother is the Android camp and I am the iOS camp. OK, I would have to say the Android Tethering works rather well! Just had to tap a few buttons set the password and our iPhones and iPad got connected to the Android’s Wi-Fi Hotspot.

Previously I would have recommended the Mifi because it’s cheap option. It cost around $150 or so and it works well for sharing and it costs about the same as your roaming charges. Now I would say, get a decently fast yet cheap device like a Redmi for $169. As it’s a phone, all the APN are automatically downloaded, you do not need to be a techie to configure it like if you are using a Mifi. Wifi

So, we used the Redmi to google maps our way around Western Australia. It was quick and accurate! Just that vodafone have no signals in some parts of our trip, but since the map was already downloaded, the GPS on the phone knows and still guided us around.

At the same time, the wife and I could still stay connected to the world as if we are in Singapore with our data connection. Vodafone we found out had an App and we downloaded it to check our data usage. We used 2.1 GB over the week we were there!

Oh yes, the vodafone data SIM comes with a mobile number and it was probably a recycled number because we received calls on the phone around 4 times during our trip! We just ignored the call.

Not bad for AUD30 (SGD35). If we roamed, it would have cost us SGD200 for 2 persons. The money saved can be used for a fabulous meal.

Note: the only time we did not use this was when we were in Beijing, China. We stayed offline and only connected via roaming for $15 / day. If you buy a local card, there’s no Facebook for you. You do get Facebook and some other sites by roaming with your telco back home!

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Discuss - 2 Comments

  1. RJ says:

    Hi, I am traveling to Perth Australia next month. I’m wondering, do you have trouble using the mobile wifi that you bought in Singapore when using in Perth? Cause I just realized that my accommodation does not offer wifi. Thanks!


  2. keropok says:

    Hi RJ,

    I used the mobile wifi first and could not get a connection to share. I suspect that the APN was not downloaded into the device, so it could not get any data connection. We bought a Vodafone card from the Perth airport.

    So I just used the Android phone instead and did not try to check about the Vodafone APN.

    If you know it should work. When I was in Paris, it happened and when I got a wifi connection in the hotel, I searched for the APN settings and it did work.

    I did not try the Telstra, Optus etc cards though.

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