Pocket Wifis for the Global Traveler

We've got two girls traveling around the world this summer. One has a pocket wifi from Xcom Global (asia) and the other has a pocket wifi from Tep Wireless (europe).

I've become a convert to the pocket wifi in the past year. I used to be a fan of swapping sim cards but these pocket wifis have gotten better recently. The cost has come down and the coverage has gone up.

I don't have a complete report from the girls yet. I will get a full download when they are back and write up something with the pros and cons of both. The one thing I know for sure from our trip to Japan is that battery life is the big issue with pocket wifis. If you get four hours, you are doing well. I always charge up two batteries so I have a backup when I'm out and about.

I am curious if there are other vendors out there that I should know about. I'm getting ready to head to europe for a week of business in four countries and I am planning to get a Tep unless there is something better out there I should know about.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Peggy H

    Have you looked at Fogg Mobile? Depending on where you are going they might be able to give you something to try out.

    1. fredwilson

      I will check them out

  2. William Mougayar

    Maybe I don’t fully understand the advantage of this vs. putting a global SIM card into your smartphone, eg http://www.onesimcard.com/ or http://www.worldsim.com (and there are others)These mi-fi’s have some kind of SIM card in them. Why can it not be inserted into a smartphone?

    1. Peter Cain

      Hi William, yeah the mifi’s do have a SIM in them (just depends which carrier/Telco is backing it for what sort of deal you are getting), but the main advantage is that your normal home SIM can still receive SMS/calls and at the same time still have a mobile data connection via the mifi without massive data roaming bills your home carrier would charge. I suppose the other main advantage is what I have seen my customers get caught with all the time (and why I’m swinging toward hotspots), is the three fails of a local SIM: 1) SIM size 2) Phone unlocking & 3) Phone settings… For the average user, on of the three will catch them out, but the hotspot skips around all these. Fred is spot on with the battery life issue with the mifi’s, and having a spare battery or two is a good hack, or a larger portable back-up battery that both your phone and hotspot can recharge off is also a great option. As I mentioned I’m bringing out a few new products in this area, but there is plenty to watch out for with buying a hotspot..main thing is to check it will have at least tri-band compatibility to get UMTS (3G) in most countries.

      1. William Mougayar

        Thanks Peter. I just checked Datago, and I understand what you’re doing. Last year, I had a second unlocked Android which I used for local & wifi + data, and it doubled as a 2nd phone for my wife so we could stay in touch. I was at a conference so had wifi during the day and didn’t need it. I only had to buy 2 local SIMs (was in 2 countries) for a total of about $75 for 10 days.

        1. Peter Cain

          Yeah for sure, convenience, pricing and simplicity is key. I suppose the one thing I have found is that for some products (or in this case, a device and service) it can never be too simple for most people. The hotspot device helps jump a lot of the main barriers…believe it or not there are actually a lot of people who don’t know what a SIM card is!

      2. kenberger

        The other HUGE advantage of going mifi instead of sim swap is for travelling with 2 or more of you, you can all share the connection, so it can be cheaper and simpler for a group (up to 5 devices usually).And you can use the connection with your ipad and laptop back at the hotel (although most Android phones can act as a mifi and share their data connection anyway).

    2. fredwilson

      You don’t have to change your phone number and can text and call with your regular number with pocket wifis

      1. William Mougayar

        True. There is a price for that convenience.

      2. kenberger

        …which aren’t issues if you port your number to onsip or GVoice (but i know you know that).

        1. fredwilson

          I might do thatMy girls will not

  3. Peter Cain

    Hi Fred, I agree on the hotspot front, it can be a fairly convenient option for someone like yourself who wants to keep their home SIM in but still have mobile data everywhere. I actually recently started a company ( dataGO.co ), and we are tackling it on two fronts. Locals SIMs that you can buy before you head off, for people spending a long period of time in the one country (with the cheapest data possible), or roaming SIM/hotspots for those needing coverage in multiple countries. We are actually just about to launch two new data hotspots, one a corporate data hotspot back by the AT&T network, and pay per use (/MB) option backed by a large European telco. I actually have just come back from a couple of weeks with Dave McClure’s Geeks on a Plane group travelling around South East Asia, doing a test run with the corporate option and it performed brilliantly. More than happy to send you a trial one to test out for if you like- let me know. Cheers, Pete

    1. fredwilson

      Does it work in Europe?

      1. Peter Cain

        Yeah for sure, it actually has coverage for 150+ countries, for which 130 of them are 3G.. how much data are you after? Would 800MB, or 3GB be enough? you mentioned it was only for a week, what 4 countries are you after in particular? might be able do far better deal if it was limited to a few specific countries. If its easier, just shoot me a quick email: [email protected] with your details and I’ll send you out one to test for me. Also, I notice Tep doesn’t cover France in its Europe plan (its an extra), and only select European countries. Is it possible to select a Europe/worldwide option with them?

        1. kenberger

          “well played” ;)PS: I could be handy to test your service too, Dave can attest i go way back with mobile broadband expertise.

  4. andreas

    Fred, have a look at Globalgig ( gobalgig.com.au ). A pocket wifi which roams in US, UK, AU and a few other countries. They’re on my list of services I’d like to try. I’d like them to add CA and Germany and then it would be perfect.-Andreas

    1. Peter Cain

      agree, coverage is a key point also, the two plans I’m bringing out with dataGO.co will have 135+ country coverage… a handful of countries can be handy, but really at the end of the day you just want coverage for the country you are going at a reasonable price

      1. andreas

        Actually, in my case the selling point is to be able to use this in AU, as well as CA and DE as I’m spending time in those countries every year.So the benefit of paying one flat-rate and and using it in those 3 countries without any further complications cannot be underestimated.-Andreas

    2. fredwilson


  5. Bala

    I think all these solutions are “meh”, I want to create a marketplace for everyone to allow anyone part of the market to buy online access irrespective of the location and get connected immediately. Carrying your infrastructure to everywhere you go is ineffective. It is an idea that I have been working on to Create a WiFi Market place, allow those who have excess data plan to make their device become a tethering wifi hotspot so you can pay them while using them and it would also allow excess bandwidth to be utilized more efficiently. The idea came from my frustration while I travel and based on post you made here is the original post http://blog.startupiceland….

    1. William Mougayar

      I like your theme of Antifragile Startups – see this:http://wmougayar.com/blog/2…(btw- the link to the wifi market signup gives a 404)

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      Check FON (fon.com). You set up their router at home to share your connection with the other people in the network and you can use theirs.

  6. Farhan Abbasi

    For a true comparison one would have to look at the cost and functionality of buying a global or local SIM with personal hotspot capabilities such that it allows you to grab the signal on your PC. Does anyone know the cost of this in different regions / plans? I assume this is what Fred refers to when saying he usually swaps the SIM.

  7. Hacker

    I like the concept, particulalry with many tablets lacking data plans. Have you worked out the numbers on this? What about security issues?

    1. Peter Cain

      On the security front, I’d be keen to hear what other commenters think, but as long as you are password protecting your hotspot device’s signal, I would have thought it a much, much safer option than using public wifi signals

      1. Dale Allyn

        From the Karma ( yourkarma.com ) website:Is it safe?You have nothing to fear. Karma is as safe as Wi-Fi in your coffee shop. Most sites use HTTPS, like Facebook and Google, making your connection secure.To me, that’s pretty misleading and doesn’t suggest the option of password protection. To suggest “you have nothing to fear… it’s AS SAFE AS WI-FI IN YOUR COFFEE SHOP” just perpetuates ignorance. Open wi-fi or even shared password-protected access points are not safe. They go on to suggest that “most sites” use HTTPS, so it’s safe. Most sites? Such things are just irresponsible.

        1. Paul Miller

          I use a Karma hotspot… but (exactly the same as on other ‘public’ wifi) I pass my traffic through a VPN. In my case, Cloak on OS X and iOS.Without the VPN, Karma *is* “as safe as Wi-Fi in your coffee shop,” so you have “as much” (or “as little”!) to fear as you do there… rather than “nothing to fear.”The whole point of the Karma is that the signal is there for others to use… so no password, etc. But judicious use of a VPN will secure your traffic and prevent other users of the hotspot from easily snooping.

          1. Dale Allyn

            Exactly correct, Paul. The VPN approach is an appropriate solution, but most users aren’t aware of that or don’t know how to implement.Karma’s wording is unfortunate IMO.Frankly, there’s a premium service opportunity here for the pocket wifi companies. Add VPN for $XX up-charge.

  8. TyDanco

    Fred: can you give us a breakdown again of what you use now? Phone, version of Android, locked vs unlocked, etc.?

    1. fredwilson

      Nexus 4, unlocked

    2. kenberger

      Galaxy S4 and Note 2 (ATT & Tmo versions) are fairly easily unlocked and supremely capable of world roaming. They are also very capable of maintaining to the very latest Android version, via something called Cyanogenmod.Happy to help you with it, Ty.

  9. brian piercy

    Anxiously awaiting more details … I tried AT&T’s portable wifi & quickly gave it up. (U.S. broadband makes me gag.)

  10. William Mougayar

    The global roaming fragmentation and high prices are the most ridiculous thing the carriers have going for them.If they all dropped roaming charges to something reasonable and implemented a sensible shareable revenue scheme, then we’d all use our existing phones seamlessly anywhere.That’s why the Over the Top messaging services are eating the carriers lunch. It’s a downward spiral for them.Imagine if we had to pay a surcharge for accessing websites in a different country. The Internet would be almost dead.Abolish Carriers Roaming charges!!

    1. Rohan

      So idealistic, William. 🙂 2 industries that only seem to get worse with more competition are telcos and delivery services (fedex, dhl, etc.).

      1. PhilipSugar

        I am with you. Damn Fedex is expensive now.

        1. Rohan

          And really unhelpful, Phil.Customer is literally THE last thing on their minds. And DHL, UPS, etc., are no different.

          1. PhilipSugar

            I think what must have happened is the big guys like Amazon beat the hell out of them and then they take it out on the small guy.I will say this UPS drivers are the nicest people ever.

          2. Nick Ambrose

            Yeah, as per usual the guys on the sharp end doing the actual work are the nicest while the tyrants in the upper echelons seem to want to grasp the wet bar of soap ever more tightly in a desperate effort to control the universe 🙂

        2. ShanaC

          it is one of the reasons I love the USPS

      2. William Mougayar

        That’s so true.

  11. Paul Miller

    I’d agree with the other commenters, that something needs to change in the system. Until it does, I’ve moved the same way as Fred; carrying a pocket wifi device instead of popping sims.Based in Europe, I don’t need to worry about this so much when travelling to other European countries. Roaming charges have fallen quite a bit, and show every sign of falling further. Indeed, it’s possible they may be scrapped altogether next year – http://cloudofdata.tumblr.c… .But I *do* still need these devices travelling outside Europe. I’ve used a Tep device (http://www.tepwireless.com/) in the States a couple of times, but moved over to a Karma hotspot (https://yourkarma.com/) earlier this year. With reasonably frequent (and often brief!) trips, the non-expiring data allowance suits me much better. Anecdotally, at least, the battery life on the device is also slightly better… although I do now carry an external charger if I expect to need the device for more than a few hours.

  12. WA

    We are looking at the same need for the trip this fall and Tep was on the short list. This simply reaffirms it…all other philosophy on the matter (which I agree with W.M.) aside for now. Thanks.

  13. Tracey Jackson

    If anyone finds one of these that really works with consistency I would love to know. i have had several over the years, the main purpose to avoid the spotty Internet and over-priced WiFi in many hotels and airports throughout the world. I am yet to find one I could rely on. I returned two Clear units to Best Buy last week, they wouldn’t even work in my NYC neighborhood so I wasn’t about to take them on the road.

  14. ShanaC

    Is this aaible in the us and is it cheaper than phone service here?

  15. kenberger

    Yup, the mifi method is disruptive on multiple levels more than sim swapping.I’m looking fwd to them dropping in size and HEAT DISSIPATION. Can’t imagine a bulky heat brick in my shorts pocket in summer. Tokyo winter coat is almost a different use case entirely!

    1. fredwilson

      It was a feature not a bug in Tokyo in December!!!

  16. PhilipSugar

    I don’t want to highjack the thread but how about U.S. ones. I used to really love my Verizon MiFi but anecdotally it doesn’t work as well anymore.

    1. Aaron Klein

      I carried a Verizon MiFi for a while but switched to an iPad with built-in Verizon 4G. It makes the iPad a joy to use on its own while traveling, and the mobile hotspot works well for my MacBook Air.

  17. bernardlunn

    Perspective from other side of pond. I live in Europe but visit America. Have an unlocked iPhone, get a prepaid SIM from T Mobile (the carrier for people who hate carriers?). Use it for phone calls and maps, keep major surfing til I am close to wifi.

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      Same for me but with unlocked android. T Mobile has great prepaid prices.

  18. rossgreenspan

    I have a friend who dropped his conventional cell service and uses FreedomPop 4G over Google Voice. His service is acceptable compared to AT&T for about 1/5 per month. Chicago.

  19. Oliver

    Fred, any chance you’re visiting Finland on your EU trip? Would love to buy you a drink. Cheers! Oliver

    1. fredwilson

      Sadly I am not

      1. Oliver

        A pity. Safe travels wherever they will take you.

    2. Pete Griffiths

      Drinking in Finland is like ‘Hotel California.’ You can never leave. 🙂

      1. Oliver

        🙂 I’ve never heard that one before, but it’s definitely a good one.

  20. jason wright

    isn’t there a viable sim/ phone number relaying service? how hard can it be?

  21. Jen S. McCabe

    Karma! Use it for domestic travel – not sure about international. https://yourkarma.com

  22. Leroy

    I think uno4 is the cheapest. They are $14.99 a day unlimited

  23. George

    I have an idea and solution how to make roaming prices to be very very lowbut I don’t have enoght money to make it happen :-(If you think its interesting to you and you would like to take a part on it,please send me an [email protected]

  24. Alessandro Prioni

    Fred, would you invest in such a company and why?I think they are in a weak market position. Roaming prices are falling and public wifi is slowly going to be everywhere. These companies don’t offer any value to their customers other than just providing 3G.How can they compete with a telecommunications company which decided to offer roaming-free plans?I’d love to hear your opinions.Thank you!

    1. fredwilson

      i am blogging about this as a customer not an investor

      1. Alessandro Prioni

        Yes, I know. I was interested in knowing your opinion about this kind of business, anyway.

        1. fredwilson

          i don’t really know anything about telcom investing

  25. ObjectMethodology.com

    I think you were saying Brad Feld’s investments over in Europe were doing good. Are you traveling there to look for investment opportunities?

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t think Brad Feld has any european investmentsyes, i am headed there for board meetings for some of our european investments and to look at a few companies

  26. markbjohnson

    With my travels, I’ve settled on an iPad mini (which I carry anyway) and usually buying a 3GB for 30 day SIM in the local market. Allows me to do hotspot from the iPad for my laptop and phone as well as ensures the iPad always has connectivity…

  27. Teunio

    O well, I would definitely give Keepgo a shot, with their special Euro mifi offer. Their mcoverage is actually worldwide and whisper whisper, their sim is the engine in many other solutions. http://www.keepgo.com

  28. Sam Jackson

    As part of working for a global, highly mobile BigCo we have the benefit of well-priced global data coverage without sim swapping. I am impressed with this but surprised (but, not surprised) that it isn’t an option available to more people – or at least, more companies.I assume USV doesn’t have the clout, in terms of number of lines, to wrangle it… maybe go all A16Z on the problem and get some combined buying power across the portfolios? GPO style.

  29. Guy

    Another vendor – Keepgo.com

  30. Steven Kane

    i’m late to the pocket wifi party – awesome, thanks for the tip!

  31. Anurag

    Fred, you should have tried Gigsky. Much better solution. one device- a wireless router that you pay for up front, roughly $150. The company’s SIM card is inserted. the EMZI in the Gigsky SIM is programmed to speaks to carriers around the world so you only need the one device/SIM. You download the Gigsky app to your smart phone from which you can buy pre-paid data plans when you’re “in country” at the “in country” rates. Rates are as low as ten cents per MB and you can use them as you want- much better than getting multiple mifi devices or having to pay for plans on a daily basis. (Full disclosure: I’m an advisor to the company BUT I just used the service in France and Spain and it was excellent).

  32. OurielOhayon

    just for the record. i am coming back from London. Bought a 20GBP nano sim card at the airport. Loaded with unlimited internet, calls and SMS for 1 months + unlocked option for tethering. you can t beat that….

    1. William Mougayar

      Yup, those card vending machines are great, once you identify the right one. It’s a bit confusing there are so many options & not all compatible.

    2. fredwilson

      that’s what i used to do but it means you need to use a new number

      1. OurielOhayon

        Just get another cheap phone for calls.Not sent from a computer

  33. Sean Hull

    These look amazing. Can’t wait to go on my next trip and try them out.For sure the wave of the future. No sims, no phone companies, no proprietary nothing. Just generic internet pipe, and a device that can do all you want, call, video, text, email, web, apps. You name it!