Traveling internationally can be complicated when it comes to always finding reliable and constant WiFi connectivity for one’s smartphones and portable computers.
Sure, many cities, airports, restaurants and tourist destinations have adequate to good free WiFi access, but travelers will often find frustrating dead spots where they’ll have no connectivity for periods of time, making it impossible to check their email or check websites for needed information in a foreign land.
In a world where we are used to constant WiFi access at home and work, that can be maddening.
As I was preparing for a recent trip to Japan to tour Panasonic’s Toughbook factory in Kobe, mobile 4G hotspot vendor RoamingMan contacted me to see if I wanted to test their portable device to see how it performed. Their timing was perfect so I agreed to accept a device to review during my trip.
When I departed for Japan earlier in November, I was equipped with one of RoamingMan’s first-generation 4G portable WiFi hotspot units, which is shaped like a basic model iPhone, but is almost three times as thick.
This gave it a rather bulky feel when carried in a pocket. But a newer model currently available from RoamingMan is much thinner, more like a typical smartphone making it easier to carry. I ended up carrying the thicker older model in a jacket pocket or backpack pocket, where it still worked efficiently but was easier to carry around.
The thicker old-style version of the mobile hotspot allows users to charge their smartphones from the built-in battery, which was a trade-off for its thicker size. I never used the battery as a phone charger because I carry spare batteries for my older LG V10 phone. The new thinner version of the hotspot does not provide phone charging capabilities.
How did it work on the road?
I turned the hotspot on and it quickly showed its network name and password on a small display screen, which once entered in my phone immediately allowed me to connect to the internet. The device worked well in every place I used it, from hotel rooms in Osaka and Tokyo as well as while sightseeing in Kyoto and touring the Panasonic factory in Kobe, Japan. It even worked from the 46th floor observation deck of a government office tower in Tokyo and in parts of the subway system below the city.
I was able to easily access Google Maps, check email, post updates on Facebook and run web searches for places to eat and visit.
One of my colleagues was having trouble finding free local WiFi in Tokyo one night so I allowed him log into my RoamingMan device and connect to the roaming service during our evening excursion in the city. Up to five devices can connect to RoamingMan at one time, extending its usefulness for travelers. I also connected my Surface Pro 3 tablet and a second smartphone as well with excellent results.
RoamingMan says its 4G mobile hotspot connects using “cloud SIM” technology, which replaces the need for users to acquire local SIM cards for their phones when traveling.
Users get 500MB of 4G data usage for each 24-hour period at speeds up to 150Mbps for downloading and 50Mbps for uploading. After that, connection speeds can drop to 256kbps downloading and uploading. The company calls its data plan unlimited, but it provides the 4G service for a maximum of up to 500MB per 24 hours. Users may only receive 3G internet access in some countries, because RoamingMan services are provided through local internet service providers.
RoamingMan notes that the device may have weak or non-existent signals in airports, mountainous areas, highways, ports, basements, islands and other remote locations. The portable hotspot is not meant for video streaming or other high data uses, according to the company.
The device can be used in more than 100 countries around the world, including in Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Africa and Australia, Fiji Islands and New Zealand.
The mobile hotspot, which rents for $9.99 per day, comes complete to the user with a small zippered nylon carrying case and a charger cord. The user must provide a USB to wall charger plug, which is not included.
An insurance policy for the unit is an additional $19.99 for each rental period. The replacement cost of the unit is about $200 if it is damaged and if the user did not purchase insurance. Shipping the unit to and from the user costs another $29.90 combined. Users can also pick up and return the device for free by meeting a courier at JFK International Airport in New York before and after their trips. The courier service will be available at other airports, including Miami, in 2018.
I found the RoamingMan device to be convenient and useful on my trip, but I also was torn about its necessity since my carrier, Verizon, and others now usually offer special $10 a day services for international travel which let travelers use their smartphones on their normal phone plans as if they were back at home.
So why would I need to pay for a RoamingMan device when I could simply use my Verizon Travel Pass option for $10 a day?
Raphi Salem, RoamingMan’s U.S. marketing director, told me the key benefits of the company’s device over international mobile carrier plans is that it requires no SIM card changes, provides 4G service and can be used at the same time by multiple users provided they are within proximity of the hotspot at the same time.
With its tethering capability, the device was incredibly useful on my trip and the high-speed services were also appreciated. When traveling with a friend, I can certainly see the value and convenience of sharing a mobile hotspot compared to using a service like Verizon’s Travel Pass.
On the other hand, the RoamingMan hotspot doesn’t offer voice calling, which is included in my Verizon Travel Pass service. In Japan, I made some calls home using the voice calling capabilities in WhatsApp, which had some minor echoing but worked well.
Users will have to add up the daily $9.99 fees as well as the insurance and shipping fees to determine if the device is the answer they are seeking for WiFi access during trips abroad.
Formerly known as GlocalMe, the company was rebranded as RoamingMan earlier this year, Salem said.