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Make Smart Choice of Internet Service While Travelling Abroad

  • 2015.11.16

Mobile phone becomes indispensable to one’s life.  Even when travelling abroad, consumers want to share every wonderful moment of their journey with friends and relatives instantly through social networks.  However, consumers could be stunned by “bill shock” resulting from expensive charge in mobile data roaming and improper use.  Nowadays, either renting a pocket Wi-Fi or buying a prepaid data SIM card can satisfy consumer’s needs to stay online when abroad.  How should consumers make a smart choice?

The Consumer Council looked into the information from 11 pocket Wi-Fi service providers.  It is revealed that the charges and terms and conditions vary considerably and it is not easy for consumers to make a direct comparison.

Price and network speed are the two most important considerations when choosing pocket Wi-Fi.  For example, the pocket Wi-Fi rental cost for a 4-day trip to Japan could vary from HK$140 to HK$260, a difference of almost 100%.  Besides, more expensive package may not mean faster network speed.

The network speed of pocket Wi-Fi primarily depends on the network coverage of the service provider’s partnering overseas mobile operator.  However, the trader may not offer full details about the transmission speed when marking the pocket Wi-Fi service.  Some companies clearly specify the highest network speed, but some only indicate whether a 3G or 4G network is in use or some even offer no information at all.  Since the network speed of the same overseas service provider may vary by district, consumers should make a careful comparison of all offers.

Usage limit also varies, including unlimited data, 1GB/3 days or 400MB/day.  Since pocket Wi-Fi is easy to set up and is able to connect 3 to 15 mobile devices simultaneously, such as handsets and tablets, consumers could easily exceed the limit without notice, thus becoming subject to restriction from the “Fair Usage Policy”.  This can result in reduced network speed, suspension of services, or even incur additional charges.

Another point to note is that if the device stops working, consumers may have to find another way to connect to the Internet before they can seek technical assistance or seek redress from the service provider.

Apart from using pocket Wi-Fi, consumers may also purchase a data prepaid SIM card to avoid the hassle of picking up and returning the device on departure and arrival to Hong Kong.  Every data SIM card can be used independently, so members of the group can go online individually even if they go different ways.

Nevertheless, consumers should notice that there is an activation deadline for most data SIM cards.  Some also have a daily usage limit.  Moreover, some have to be activated in Hong Kong and the charge is counted for each day even for part of a day.  In other words, a traveller on a long-haul flight may unfortunately waste the usage for an entire day.

Furthermore, many data SIM cards do not support tethering, the Internet service cannot be shared with travel companions through their own handsets.  Besides, a data SIM card may not support all types of handsets and there may be a rather complicated manual setup procedure.

While pocket Wi-Fi and data SIM cards have their own pros and cons as well as restrictions in price and terms and conditions, consumers should make the best choice based on their actual needs, such as the travel destination, number of companions in the group and their Internet use habits.  Before renting a pocket Wi-Fi or using a data SIM card, consumers should check with the store for details and read the terms of use thoroughly.  Here are other tips for travellers using Internet connections abroad:

  • Some mobile apps may be in the “automatic update” setting.  Turn off that feature to avoid unnecessary data usage;
  • The battery of a pocket Wi-Fi may not be able to last for an entire day, consumers had better bring along a mobile charger; 
  • Utilise the free Wi-Fi services smartly at the tourist spots, hotels and restaurants, but mindful on potential leakage of personal data. 

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