I'm very lucky. I get to travel a lot for work, and I get to go to some amazing places and do some amazing things. But even though I'm travelling, it's still work — and that means I need to be online, just like I'm sitting down in the office in front of my PC. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into keeping this website ticking over from the other side of the globe.
Gizmodo is in Berlin this week for IFA — one of the world's largest tech shows. Thanks to Vodafone Business, we're roaming using a Vodafone mobile SIM and the company's $5 International Global Roaming to get access to our Australian data cap, calls and messages just like we were in the office or at home. Vodafone's 4G network covers 22 million Australians.
Staying Online: Mixing Wi-Fi, 4G And 3G Around The Planet
When I'm travelling and reporting from an event like IFA, Mobile World Congress or CES, connectivity is crucial. When you're writing a live blog, it doesn't pay to be offline. Imagine that: Tim Cook walks onto stage, holds up the new iPhone
7 7 Plus 7s 9, you snap a photo, go to upload it to some online storage service to share with the world and... nothing. And this situation is more familiar than you might think.
Here's a little glimpse behind the scenes, one that any large-scale conference-goer might be familiar with: infrastructure wi-fi at any event is rubbish. Especially when you're at a launch. Hundreds or even thousands of people sitting in one phone, focused just as much on their phones and laptops and tablets and Wi-Fi-connected cameras as much as they are the talking head up on stage, is going to overwhelm even the most robust wireless network setup around. Because of that, more often than not I'll happily tether my laptop to my phone, and use up some global roaming data.
I'm a little bit obsessed with running speed tests on whatever network I'm on, and I'm quite demanding. I'll take a reliable, moderately fast connection over a fast but flaky one, and I haven't been in a location yet that even roaming 3G hasn't been adequate for the task of uploading images, loading and re-loading web pages, checking emails and shooting off instant messages all the while. Because of that, I'll stay on 3G or 4G — and have my own little Wi-Fi hotspot network all to myself — rather than jump on crowded Wi-Fi.
Working Anywhere: My Job Needs, Not Wants, Mobile Data
More often than not, I'm not at a place where Wi-Fi is even available. A lot of posts on Gizmodo's Instagram, for example, are on location — and there wasn't any Wi-Fi in the middle of this little cobblestone square in the middle of Lisbon, for example. The same is true of pretty much anywhere you travel; the only network that you can guarantee on being pretty much everywhere is a mobile network. A lot of our Facebook Live videos are done on 4G rather than Wi-Fi, too — even in the middle of our office, Wi-Fi can be patchy. For my job, it's all about mobile data, so I buy it in bulk.
I've used a huge variety of international data roaming services — everything from Telstra's international data packs in all their myriad and confusing form, to dedicated data SIMs from GlobalGig, to KnowRoaming's funky virtual SIM sticker, to my current setup with Vodafone. They've all got the job done in one way or another, but I have to say that I've had the best luck with Vodafone — the number of deals that the company has with international carriers is massive, and it's the only service where I've roamed onto the fastest possible 4G networks internationally.
Managing Data: Keeping Track Of How Much You're Using
With that said, it takes a fair bit of data to report from a tech expo like IFA, mostly because you're snapping a lot of photos — often in bad light, or from a distance, or in a crowded room — and uploading them at the best resolution and quality possible. As well as that, there's the usual demands of emails, social media, my team's various instant message services and calendars and online storage boxes (more on these in another article!) — and these are the ones that you need to have.
When you're using a phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, there's one caveat that you have to keep in mind. When I'm travelling, there's one thing that I do as an absolute that I didn't have to do a couple of years ago. Now that I'm using Windows 10, I make absolutely certain to disable any automatic updates, and also cancel out Windows 10's propensity to upload those updates to other Windows PCs, doubling your effective data usage. I do the same for iOS or my Android devices that I'm carrying — if I need an update to any app, I'll jump on my hotel Wi-Fi at the end of the day and do it there, where my usage isn't metered.
Probably the biggest advantage of having all my data go through one SIM — no matter whether I'm tethering a laptop, whether I'm running multiple phones for personal and business use, or whether I'm emailing photos to myself directly from my Samsung NX1 camera — is that there's one place to check exactly how much data I'm using. On Android or iOS, I can just jump straight into my Vodafone app and see exactly how much I've used. Because Vodafone's international data comes off your normal, local Aussie data cap — at a flat charge of $5 per day extra — it's a set cost without any surprises, which is important when it comes to balancing the books at the end of the month.