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businessman businesswoman using laptop and tablet at airport

The speed of travel – Not all WiFi is created equal

When it comes to staying connected on the road, some of a traveler’s toughest challenges are often WIFI access. Sure most hotels/hostels offer some sort of free/semi free access, but the truth is unless you’re properly prepared that may not get you far. The average person on vacation might need to check an email, or a security camera, or send selfies to their Facebook.

But what if you’re a business traveler or if while traveling staying online is what makes your money. Most of the newer laptops and devices now run on the wireless N protocol. To date this is the fastest WIFI there is. The majority of places one is likely to stay will either have a router that is WIFI B/G/N compatible. This device will mostly be located in a common area or behind the front desk, or in a manager’s office.

The important thing to remember about WIFI is it is very temperamental. You can even be right next to the router and still get a slow signal. Also the signal throughput will depend on how many people are accessing the service. If the hotel is a smaller outfit and all 25 rooms are using WIFI you’re better off at your local coffee shop.

Another consideration is although WIFI is highly accessible it takes a huge toll on a devices battery life cycle. Let’s face it your “10 hour” awesome tablet you boast about is more than likely going to see less than 2 hours with WIFI running.

If you ever want to put WIFI drain to the test, simply take out your android/IOS device; switch it to airplane mode for an hour. Barring any funky apps or screensavers you have installed the battery life will most likely not change more than 2% every hour.

I use WIFI extensively here in the states, everywhere I go. I am probably the most prolific WIFI user out there. My cell phone often has no cell carrier on it, so when I am not attached to a WIFI I am not getting any data. While this saves me enormous amounts of money on ridiculous cell phone plans, I am chained to WIFI spots to get my information.

For the most part this is fairly easy. Being a former technician in Information Technology there are very few WIFI hotspots (locked or otherwise) that I cannot connect to, but that is for another topic. The point is if I go out for a ten mile bike ride I may stop at a McDonalds or a Chic Fil A, or even in a pinch find a nearby hotel to use their WIFI. Think of it like hopscotching across the city to the different spots.

When travelling I need a data plan, and often opt for the local cell plans rather than an international plan. Just recently I went to T-Mobile and asked them about a plan. The rep said I would get free text, and data up to 2G speeds (think 2X dialup) when available. My calls to and from the USA would be 54 cents a minute. If I wanted to make LOCAL calls in the country I was in those would be free. I could have all these limitations for a low low $90.00 a month. No thanks.

Now back to WIFI, if you have a good laptop you are most likely going to be Ok using it in a common area. Unfortunately those areas may not be the best place to get your work done. If you’re like me and you stay in Hostels you know they can be loud and full of activity. Why not sit on the beach outside or maybe sneak to your bunk to get some work in. The problem is the WIFI in most places does not extend to those areas, or if it does its spotty and slow.

The solution which I stand by and so does fellow travel blog expert Matt Karsten (You know him as Expert Vagabond) is an external WIFI adapter. This is one of the most solid investments you can make on your trip. Plug one of these in and watch your productivity soar, all while sipping a margarita on the beach. You can do your work away from the common area of screaming about who’s backpack has what in it, or what to cook in the communal kitchen that night.

The adapter I stand by is at the bottom of this article. I am going to present to you a real world situation with this adapter in it. It’s a bit technical but should give you a glaring idea of WIFI and how to get the best out of it. Your mileage may vary with this or any device but I highly recommend this particular unit.

In Phoenix we use Cox internet (they got the name spelled wrong), which is atrocious for lousy service, and since

they own the monopoly of cable access here they simply do not care about their customers.

Google “Cox Downtime” Cox Sucks” Cox Offline” you get the idea real fast. They are the #7 most hated company when it comes to customer service, but I digress.

Cox provided in home WIFI with their UBEE routers, these things are totally not flexible or offer much custom configuration. My location has the router in the living room, and I often work in the back bedroom. There are two solid concrete walls between those rooms. Sometimes to get a WIFI signal I have to stand at the bedroom door to send a message. Below find a few screenshots using the internal WIFI on my travel computer (An HP Ultrabook) and the same with an External WIFI adapter hooked up. The final picture is of a WIRED Ethernet connection in the back bedroom.

So as you can see devices are not created equal.

You’re asking yourself just what do I use to get those speeds through two concrete walls; well here is your answer.

I use the TP LINK – TL-WN822N 300 Mbps adapter. This device has dual antennas and a little blinking green light on it. Its lightweight, durable and a lifesaver when I run my WIFI overseas.

You can still pick these up on Amazon fairly cheap, and it’s a solid investment, so go pick one up while you still can today, and if you see me by the beach, look for the blinking green light and say HI!


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Profile photo of Jason Harris

I'm Jay from the popular adventure travel blog Jays Odyssey. I travel the world in search of stories that are off the beaten path. I seek to travel in an "Immersive" way rather than " I got the pic and the T-shirt". I believe that everyone has a story, and I want to travel the world to hear it!Feel free to read my articles here and also to check out my awesome website at jaysodyssey.com.



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