International mobile broadband rental services offer prepaid and pay-as-you-go Internet access for your laptop in countries around the world (over 150 countries globally). Typically, these services provide a USB modem or mobile hotspot device that allows your laptop to connect to the local data network at your destination: no need for long-term contracts or working around costly data roaming charges.
Benefits of renting mobile broadband while traveling
Having high-speed Internet access directly from your laptop is very convenient -- it gives business travelers critical "anywhere, anytime" Internet access. It's also, however, much more expensive than going to a wi-fi hotspot, signing up for global wi-fi service, or renting a workstation at an Internet cafe.
International Mobile Broadband Providers
Below are a few companies from whom you can rent Internet access internationally. When selecting a service, make sure you check their coverage maps and the fine print regarding overage/extra fees. Although I haven't personally used these services, I did get an impression of the customer service from several of the companies who responded to my queries for information, and I've noted them below to help you make a more informed decision when planning your trip.
Planetfone has provided international cellular services (e.g., GSM phone rentals) since 1997, and they are the preferred vendor for AAA Clubs, CitiBank, Target Corp, and others, so I gather they know what they're doing. The company's rep promptly responded to my information query with great detail about their cell phone rental service, which is available in any of 150 countries around the world. The mobile broadband USB modem rental is a more recently introduced service that at the time of this writing is still being rolled out, so you'll need to contact Planetfone to confirm pricing and coverage for your destination. Renting their mobile broadband modem, however, will also get you a complimentary GSM cell phone for calling abroad -- a nice bonus that allows you to kill two birds with one stone.
- Service: 24/7, 365 days a year support; a personal account manager will be assigned to you
- Pricing: from $39 for 10MB ($3.9/MB) to $599 for 1000MB ($0.60/MB) with $4.99 per MB overage; minimum 2 week rental
- Reliability: Planetfone indicated that the service is extremely reliable and coverage is excellent because the countries overseas using GSM have an average of 4 networks within the country.
Like Planetfone, XCom Global responded quickly to my request for information and the reps I spoke to were very helpful. XCom specializes in international data access (cellular phone rentals are expected in early 2011), so they offer a wider array of data rental plans including daily fixed rate pricing for unlimited data (in 26 countries) as well as bundled data pricing (in 130+ countries). In addition to renting a USB broadband modem, you can also rent a MiFi mobile hotspot at a fixed daily rate in certain countries. The mobile hotspot is a great option if you're traveling in a group and/or need Internet access on multiple devices.
- Service: Technical support Monday to Friday, 6am to 6pm PST
- Pricing: Data bundles go from $59 for 10MB over 5 days ($5.9/MB) to $199.95 for 100MB over 30 days ($2.0/MB); Unlimited wireless rental for the USB modem is $14.95/day and for the mobile hotspot, $17.95/day.
- Reliability: XCom noted that they have a strong track record of reliability because they've aligned with the largest cell providers in the areas where they offer coverage.
Cellhire is another service that offers international cell phone rentals as well as prepaid mobile broadband (USB modem rentals); for the ultimate road warrior, they also offer Iridium satellite phone rentals. Cellhire didn't get back to me in time for this article, so the information provided here is based on their website: they offer a pay-as-you go option as well as a 200MB bundle in 70+ countries; however, I was unable to find a coverage map or list of countries where their solutions are offered, so if you are interested in their service, it's essential to contact them before your trip to make sure you will have adequate coverage and support at your destination.
- Service: "24 hour global support"
- Pricing: Data bundle of 200 MB for $199 monthly ($1.01/MB) plus $19.99 set up fee, which includes round-trip shipping -- $8 per MB for overages; or Pay-as-you-go use priced at $9 per MB plus $59 per month rental fee and $19.99 set up.
MobilityPass, established in 2000, offers a combination of mobile broadband, wi-fi hotspot, and dial-up Internet access for both laptops and smartphones in 120 countries worldwide (not all services available in all countries -- to find rates and coverage you need to visit their international rates and coverage page). There are two unique features of MobilityPass's service:
- You don't rent the data cards and software (USB modems for PCs and Macs, SIM cards for iPads and smartphones, and wi-fi connection apps), but rather purchaase them outright (and therefore don't have to return them). When you need to use the service you just pay per minute/KB. This is convenient for frequent international travelers but requires more upfront hardware investment and is more expensive on a per MB basis.
- The "SECUREkey" automatically encrypts your authentication requests, locally securing your data.
- Service: International 24/7 support
- Pricing: hardware costs: 3G USB modem is $299, SIM card (your smartphone must be an unlocked GSM phone) is $149, and Wi-Fi connection software is $69; data usage rates: $0.189 per 100Kb (roughly $1.89 per MB) in the US, Europe, China and India; outside of those areas it's $1.89 per 100Kb. At Wi-fi hotspots, billing is $0.32 per minute, plus $0.87 connection fee.
- Reliability: MobilityPass offers a 7-day warranty on their products
All prices above in US Dollars.