There is a constant need for data in today’s world. People are connected round-the-clock, and apps like Foursquare and Twitter feed the need to always share what you’re doing with the world. Despite widespread connectivity, it is harder than ever for travelers to stay connected on the road. Hotels charge exorbitant rates for wireless internet that performs only minimally well.
I spent the past ten days in Spain, starting in Madrid and eventually ending up in the mountains near Cordoba. The entire time, I was connected to the internet through Wi-Fi, and all for under $60 (see disclosure).
So how does Tep do it? The Pocket Wi-Fi device pulls 3G data signals from cell phone networks and turns them into useable Wi-Fi that up to five devices can use at the same time. In Spain, the mobile provider that the device used was Orange (formerly known as Amena), the largest service provider in Spain. This was the same provider that my iPhone automatically connected to after landing at Barajas.
Tep can arrange for your device to be delivered to your home before your trip ($14.95 via FedEx), or sent to your hotel. In London, you can pick up the Tep Pocket Wi-Fi at terminals 1,3,4,5 at Heathrow Airport, as well as Paddington Station. A prepaid envelope is accompanies the package, and you use that to return the Tep after your time with the device is up. Again, at some airports, you can return the device directly to a Tep stand.
The Pocket Wi-Fi device is small and oval-shaped, about the size of an egg, and only slightly thicker than an iPhone. It is remarkably simple to operate, with only two buttons and a digital screen.
When powered on, the screen displays the name of the connected network, the total data usage, and the total device uptime, as well as the battery status and signal strength. The Tep kit includes a handy carrying case, which contains the device, a USB charging cable, and a wall charger, as well as a small instruction guide.
The great thing about the Pocket Wi-Fi is that it takes up less space in your pocket than a standard wallet or smartphone, making it possible to tour an entire city with it sitting unobtrusively in your pocket. You can use your iPhone anywhere. It’s pretty awesome.
We really put the Tep through it’s paces. We started our 10-day adventure in Madrid. As you’d expect, the Tep device performed wonderfully, picking up strong data signals from the Orange 3G network. It allowed us to spend nearly three hours out exploring the city, using iPhone apps like Google Maps, currency converters like Convertbot, and social apps like Facebook and Instagram. It was as if we had never left the United States!
The real test, though, would come the next day as we boarded a bus for rural Spain. There was a five-hour drive ahead of us, almost all of it through rural areas, and would end up in Priego de Cordoba, a small village on the outskirts of the Sierras Subbéticas Natural Park, in the Andalusian region of Spain.
After a few hours of bus driving, it became clear that the Tep would not back down from a challenge. It had given me lots of Wi-Fi, only dropping the 3G signal in a few dead spots (I also noticed that cell service on my iPhone was spotty, so this seems appropriate). The only downside was the battery life. The Tep Pocket Modem has good battery life, but not great battery life. It probably only held up for two hours before it registered a “Low Battery” notice and I had to plug it into my laptop (via the provided USB cable) to keep it alive.
Once we arrived at our resort, the Tep device continued to perform admirably. It’s so simple to log on, and the speeds were relatively fast. Unfortunately, we didn’t do a speedtest, but applications like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram loaded just as quickly using Tep Wi-Fi as they would on a 3G network at home. To put it to the ultimate test, we even had friends connect and actively use multiple devices to the Tep modem, up to the modem’s limit of five. At one point, there were five data-hungry iPhones on the network, all streaming YouTube videos, and the unit performed like a champ.
The Tep Pocket Wi-Fi Hotspot is a great tool for any traveler. Hotel Wi-Fi is expensive, and so are cell phone data roaming plans. At least in Spain, Tep provides reliable Wi-Fi for a reasonable price. Couple that with the device’s intuitive interface and ease of use, and Tep have themselves a winner. The only downside is the (relatively) short battery life, but if you’re near a laptop or power source, that becomes a non-issue.
More below: Check out a full comparison between a Tep Europe device, hotel wi-fi, and AT&T global roaming rates.
Disclosure: I was provided with the Tep Pocket Wi-Fi device for review purposes, free of charge. However, all prices shown are actual costs that a traveler might face while using the device, and all opinions are our own.
Photos by Taylor Michie for Racing Winds Media.