Business travel is, under the best of circumstances, a royal pain in the butt, and when you're roaming internationally with a smartphone and need to make some calls and keep up with email, you face a zonking great bill when you get home.
I recently had to make a trip to England and this gave me a chance to try out a new gadget that makes data roaming impressively less costly. The gadget, the Globalgig Hotspot, provides an 802.11b/g Wi-Fi hotspot that can support up to five devices and delivers data service via one of a number of cellular service providers depending on which country you're in.
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In the U.S., Globalgig's mobile service is provided by Sprint, while in the U.K., Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and Hong Kong, Globalgig uses cellular service provider Three, and Optus in Australia. Other countries will be available soon.
The Globalgig Hotspot is tiny, measuring just 4 inches by 2.15 inches by 0.7 inches. It has a switch on one edge and a mini-USB power connector on the end. It has an internal battery which is good for about three hours or can be plugged in (it comes with a number of international adapters).
I must digress and note that while driving cross country in England I also powered the Globalgig and my iPhone with a Verbatim Dual USB Power Pack, a terrific portable, 10,000mAh/42W, Li-Polymer battery that weighs just 13 ounces and which you can find online for as little as $46! The Verbatim Dual USB Power Pack gets an enthusiastic Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5!
In operation the Globalgig Hotspot works flawlessly. Setup and activation are simple, but there's a small problem at present: While you can configure the gadget and make it usable via any browser, there are a number of menu options in the user interface that result in a blank page unless you are using Internet Explorer.
Given that it's not guaranteed that users will have IE on every device they carry (which they definitely won't if they're iPhone and iPad users), this is an odd bug to find in a released product. That said, the bug is not a deal breaker, as you can get by without needing to access the complete device management system.
Another oddity in the design is that you can't charge the gadget without it switching itself on; it can only be switched off when it's running on its internal battery.
Here, however, is what matters: In use the Globalgig Hotspot just works. The cellular data throughput is very good (depending on local service quality), the Wi-Fi power is remarkably good for such a small form factor, the battery life is good (although something like six to eight hours would be much better), and there's really nothing in the way of management required for normal operation.
So, you're probably wondering, what does Globalgig cost? Well, if you opt for an 18-month contract the device itself is free, and on a month-to-month plan it costs $99. Data plans start at $17 per month for 1GB and go up to $80 per month for 10GB, with over-plan data being charged at $0.05 per MB. That's it.
I love this device! On my England trip I not only used the Globalgig Hotspot to check email, I also used it to navigate with Google Maps, and I made Skype calls (though admittedly not using video). As for cost savings, on another iPhone we racked up $150 in roaming charges for next to no use (AT&T charges just under $20 per MB for international pay-per-use data roaming and $30 for 120MB on a pre-ordered plan!) so for frequent travelers the Globalgig Hotspot will save a fortune.
Bottom line: The Globalgig Hotspot is a great product and a great service and gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.
Gibbs is no longer roaming in Ventura, Calif. Connect with him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).
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This story, "Globalgig Hotspot: Taking the pain out of data roaming" was originally published by Network World.