Houston We Have a Problem 11



Ask Rick 161 09/07/11


Holiday Hotspots

What is the best gadget for emailing and Internet browsing whilst on holiday in Europe? I have seen people in hotel lobbies using computers and tablet PCs, however I am in the dark about wireless connections and charges. I have heard dongles mentioned, what are they all about?

Jennifer Lockwood, by email


With the holiday season fast approaching and in response to a number of similar queries here’s a crash course in staying in touch when travelling abroad. First the hardware and you can take your pick from scores of inexpensive netbooks and laptops and more recent arrivals like smart phones and tablet computers. It’s impossible to make specific recommendations without knowing more about your budget, needs and preferences so get along to your local electronics and mobile phone stores and try out as many of these gadgets as you can.


All of these devices let you access your emails, social media and the Internet through a wireless connection to a Wi-Fi hotspot. Many hotels have free hotspots in the lobby; Wi-FI access in your room may cost extra, either way to get online you’ll need to enter a password -- provided by the hotel or hotspot operator -- when you first log on to the hotspot. Free hotspots can also be found in many burger restaurant and coffee shops and there are thousands listed at www.free-hotspot.com; paid for hotspots typically charge between 1 and 5 euros an hour. Unless you reconfigure your device’s email program with the hotspot’s SMTP server address you’ll be able to receive but not send emails so the simplest thing to do is access your account through a webmail service like Yahoo and gmail. Wi-Fi isn’t very secure and bogus hotspots can intercept your connection so avoid using it for on-line banking or anything that involves exchanging personal or private information.


The alternative and much more secure connection method is mobile broadband through the 2/3G phone network in the country you are visiting. Smart phones and some tablet PCs have this facility built-in. On laptops and netbooks you need a dongle, basically a miniature cellphone, which plugs into one of the PC’s USB sockets. These cost from around £10.00.


The downside is that mobile broadband can get expensive. Overseas mobile data roaming charges can be high but it needn’t be prohibitive and there’s some good advice at MoneySavingExpert.com (http://goo.gl/LcaUT). Locally bought pay-as-you-go SIM cards can also help keep costs down, so do your homework and shop around for the best deals before you go.


For what it is worth my travel kit includes an unlocked HTC Desire Android smart phone and a cheap Windows 7 netbook. The latter I use when free Wi-Fi is available, for work, media and data storage, camera memory backup, serious web browsing, video streaming and so on. It also doubles as a charger for my phone and camera (both have USB sockets for charging). Tablets and iPads are fine for some but I need program compatibility and a proper keyboard for writing. Away from the hotel I rely on the Desire and the gmail app for receiving and sending messages. I use Vodafone and Three PAYG SIMs, which cost around £1.00 in the UK. One of them always works. I find that a £10 top-up generally lasts four or five days in most European countries; more data allowance can be purchased online or by phone if needed. On rare occasions when there’s no free Wi-Fi and I need to get on the web, to send a photo or some copy I use the Desire’s Portable Hot Spot app, which does away with the need for a dongle by turning the phone into a wireless hotspot. I also take a 3G Kindle, primarily for reading but once or twice the built in browser has got me out of trouble, to do a spot of emergency web surfing or emailing in departure lounges when there was no free Wi-Fi or the phone couldn’t get a decent signal.      


Cargo is Pants

We will be travelling as passengers on a cargo ship for approximately 56 days. The cost of sending emails from the ship is prohibitive and some captains will only send in an emergency.  Will a dongle be effective in the middle of the Atlantic and if so what would you recommend?

Denis Francis, by email


Dongles communicate over relatively short distances with mobile phone masts and there are not many of those where you are going... The only alternative is a satellite telephone, and surprisingly voice call charges are not too expensive at between $1 and $10 a minute, which can be less than the roaming charges on a regular mobile phone.  However, handset costs are high – prices start at around £500 – there are subscription and set-up charges. Unfortunately costs really start to mount up when satellites are used for data, so relax, forget the outside world and enjoy the voyage.



Hotel Reception

I use my netbook with Windows 7 Starter Edition daily with my home Wi-Fi network.  However, last year, whilst on holiday in Madeira I was unable to connect to the free Wi-Fi in our hotel.  My netbook showed the network to be available, there was no security code and most other guests were connecting with no problems. I will be returning to the same hotel next month and wondered if you could give me any advice on what to do.

Julie Otter, by email


Before you go update the driver for your netbook’s wireless adaptor, you should find the most up to date version, and instructions on how to install it on your computer manufacturer’s website. Signal strength is a major issue and even though the network name may be showing, with a couple of signal bars, Windows 7 may have trouble establishing a connection. Get as close to the router as you can (ask at reception) and try again. Once a working link has been made it should connect again further away in weaker signal areas. If that doesn’t work go to Start > Control Panel > Network and Sharing Centre and click Wireless Network Connection. Click Wireless Network Properties and the Connection tab and make sure that only Connect automatically…. Is checked. If it still won’t connect then your security software and firewall may be to blame so try disabling or temporarily uninstalling them.  




© R. Maybury 2011 0407

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