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Old 10-18-2013, 01:21 AM   #1
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Default Be one's own wi-fi center?

I just got a smart phone at my son's urging (face time with grandaughter). That's fun, I'm planning a cross country trip next fall. Verizon sent me something that said if I signed up for 2 years (that would make 4 years total!) I could get a device that made me a wi-fi center. I think I got that right.

I don't want 4 years with Verizon. What device are they talking about and can I buy it somewhere without breaking the bank? I want to be able to talk to and email people when I'm in the boonies or when the signal is weak.
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Old 10-18-2013, 11:28 AM   #2
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Default Re: Be one's own wi-fi center?

I'm not an expert on this but the 'wifi' they are probably talking about is really just utilizing your cell service data connection.

Smart phones have 5 main connections:

1. voice (talking over the cell network)
2. text (texting over the cell network)
3. cell data (Internet over the cell network)
4. wifi. (internet over an area network, often from a router in a home with service coming from the cable or phone company, or in public at a business. Sometimes wifi is free, sometimes charged at a campsite or included in the fee. It is generally faster than other cell internet connections, and data is often unlimited and much more cost effective than cell data internet. often it is 'free' or a set fee).
5. bluetooth (a tiny network from the phone allowing it to connect to nearby devices without a cord, like speakerphones or in-ear bluetooth headsets)

What I believe they are selling you is a device that acts like a home router for wifi, but essentially allows your laptop or tablet or other devices to connect to the cell data network, which generally slower, generally limited and generally much more expensive than most 'wifi'.) It will not help your voice connections, as it's using the same cell data network your phone uses. It is super convenient though for getting internet to your computer when there is no wifi connection, but it will not increase your ability for voice conversations over the cell netowrk. It can also be expensive depending on how much data you use and what your plan is. But most cell data plans are much more expensive than most wifi networks. It's real value is the ability to get the internet to your laptop, tablet, or other devices in remote areas.

Some smart phones though have this ability built right in and you don't need a 'separate' device or contract. It's called "personal hotspot". It can essentially turn your phone for into a router, so you can have your own area network, allowing you to wirelessly connect your laptop or tablet to the internet using the phones data connection. Your phone may not have this ability, so you may need a separate device, or you may just want a dedicated device for convenience... The separate device is often called a mobile wifi hotspot. It has a single dedicated purpose, whereas a phone with the same ability often does many other things.

It doesn't sound like you need this though! But it's good to know about.

If you need anything, it's probably a cell phone signal booster. There's probably a lot of talk about these on the the forum and elsewhere. Whether you are using the cell signal just for voice calls, or internet connection, or using even creating the personal hotspot for your computer, the cell signal booster may help you pick up a stronger signal in more remote areas. They won't boost a signal that doesn't exist though! But if you are in a place where the signal is weak, fading, or dropping, they can be very useful. I will be looking into these myself but as of now I don't know much about them. I think some can be battery powered, and some will plug into your vehicle system for added power to boost the cell signal. The main thing to know is though they are a one-time purchase, and not something you get under a contract or monthly service fee.

What gets really confusing between the different phone connections is that you can often talk or text over both over a cell data connection, or a wifi area network. Some phones switch automatically and you may even be on a call that is using your home wifi network instead of your data connection. (iphone facetime and messaging does just that).

It could go on but I get confused myself! For me I want internet wherever I can get it. It will be expensive over the cell network, but I will look into plans that allow quite a bit of extra cell data.

The only way to get internet or voice in areas where there are no cell towers or wifi networks, is via satellite. It's amazing technology but it is super slow and super expensive. You are basically setting up a two-way connection yourself direct to a satellite in orbit! (When you think about it like that it's pretty cheap!) Compared to cell and wifi though it's slow and expensive. Equipment and setup is a hassle too for the most part, with needing a satellite dish in some cases.

There are dedicated satellite phones and plans that, though quite expensive, might be of interest. They essentially allow you to talk to anyone from anywhere on the planet.

There are also some emergency type locator devices that allow limited text connections. The most well known is called the SPOT. It's what hikers and other adventurers often carry with them so that they can be tracked anywhere, and in some cases they allow you to send up an emergency 'beacon' or allow texting anywhere. As long as they are charged your people can know where you are at.

As it is now, with my iPhone, my people can find me 24/7 using the cell network. So as long as I'm within range of a cell tower they can see me on a map (if i allow it!). iPhone comes with two dedicated programs for this: Find my iPhone, and Find Friends. But I often use other apps for live tracking when I'm out and about. However none will work if you are out of cell tower range, and that's where the satellite devices come in.
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Old 10-18-2013, 01:16 PM   #3
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Default Re: Be one's own wi-fi center?

Very informative post kellyllek

soohma - Will you be taking other devices like a laptop with you? If so, a MiFi device (what I think Verizon is referring to) might be useful (a MiFi device uses the cell phone network to give other devices internet access through the cell phone network). If not, your smartphone might be all you need as kellyllek noted.

I like the idea of getting a MiFi device for a long or extended trip because I have other, WiFi only, devices. For short trips, our basic cell phones and free wifi has been ok for us but I've encountered campground wifi that blocks certain internet traffic like video for example.

For me, I think this device would do:
http://www.walmart.com/ip/Internet-on-t ... G/20665535

and this data service:
http://www.walmart.com/ip/Email-Deliver ... 5/20903085

No contract involved. I wouldn't need it all year. You'd have to look at the coverage offered by the carrier in the areas you'll be traveling in though to make sure they service those areas.
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Old 10-18-2013, 01:49 PM   #4
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Default Re: Be one's own wi-fi center?

We do the Verizon hotspot mifi thing with a Samsung tablet. Our phone contract is an old grandfathered family plan without data (fairly cheap compared to new plans), so we got the separate data plan. No contract, $40 per month, for 4 gig of data. You can use the data right on the tablet or through the wifi to our laptop. Verizon will let you put the plan on hold twice a year if you are not going to be using it for a while.

Veriizon will try to get you to buy the two year contract, and if you go without the tablet and use the little hotspot unit (like $30 with the contract) it will be cheaper if you use it a lot and don't stop a couple of times a year. If you want the tablet, the two year isn't cheaper because the tablet and the hotspot are very close to the same price, and the tablet gets a better plan rate.
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