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When the Too Many Adapters crew began our plans for a two month trip around New Zealand, the first topic of conversation wasn’t how many awesome landscapes we’d be shooting.
It was how we were going to deal with the awful Internet access.
New Zealand is renowned for its slow, expensive, and capped internet access. To put it simply, it’s a killer for the connected traveler. So the folks at XCOM Global sent us one of their mobile hotspots to help us work online while we drove from each stunning vista to the next.
How It Works
Before you embark on your next trip, you’ll want to order a device a week in advance or so to be safe. They’ll deliver it to your door by mail before you leave with everything you need.
When you arrive in the foreign country, power on the device, and connect to it like you would any WiFi hotspot. After you arrive back home at the end of your trip, just pop it back in the mail in the prepaid return envelope. It’s that easy.
Along with your mobile hotspot, XCOM Global sends a pair of batteries, a wall charger and a small case and guide. The two batteries are really handy as they only last a few hours each, less if the mobile signal is poor (which is a real issue in hilly New Zealand).
Using the XCOM Global MiFi in New Zealand
We were pleasantly surprised by how well the mobile hotspot worked in New Zealand. The XCOM Global device uses the Vodafone network, and often offered better coverage than the Telecom service we used on some of our phones. Here’s a coverage map to see where you’ll be covered when you travel in New Zealand with the device.
The speeds were decent and enough to surf at a reasonable pace most of the time. Unfortunately, this was heavily dependent on where in the country / town/ forest you were. With a low population density and difficult terrain, cell signals are still fairly hit and miss in New Zealand.
While the 3G speeds could be very fast, walk 20m away and the connection often dropped to EDGE or GPRS. While this isn’t the fault of XCOM Global, it’s just worth noting the challenges of internet access in New Zealand in general.
Whether a factor of the device itself, or the mobile network, the coverage and speeds obtained with the XCOM Global device weren’t always as good as our mobile phones using Vodafone SIM cards.
There are a couple of things to note before you order and use your device. though.
Monitor Your Usage
This isn’t an unlimited service, and there are bandwidth limits (typically 400MB over a 2-3 day period). Exceed this and you may find your service throttled to a slower speed or temporarily suspended, requiring a support e-mail or call to get things reset.
This typically takes 24 hours, and you’ll have limited or no connection during that time. We had this happen 3 times between 3 devices in our two month New Zealand trip. Granted, we’re high-volume type users.
To keep your usage under control, you’ll need to turn off backup services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, iDrive, and Crashplan. It also means you won’t be streaming music, videos on YouTube, or your favourite TV shows on Netflix either.
Keep to audio calls on Skype and Google Hangouts instead of video. In a country with weak internet access like New Zealand, you pretty much have to do this anyways.
For the convenience of having always-on, always-available internet access, you’ll pay $14.95/day for up to two countries (say New Zealand and Australia). While not cheap over the course of a long trip, neither is WiFi in New Zealand, which can sometimes run upwards of $20/day.
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I think the XCOM Global mobile hotspot service is great value for the mobile professional who needs reliable internet access with the least amount of legwork on a short to medium length trip.
The ease of having a device arrive at your door before you leave on a trip, and ready to go once you land in a new country is incredibly convenient. This is especially true on a multi-country European trip.
If you’re on a trip longer than a couple of weeks and are a little more tech savvy, you might be better off picking up a local SIM card in New Zealand, and sharing your internet connection from your smartphone if it has that capability. Mobile data SIM plans start at about $40NZD for 2GB/month.