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Broadband on-the-go: How to stay connected on the road

Switching between a laptop, tablet and smartphone is easy in the office with all devices connecting wirelessly to your Wi-Fi network. But venture out into the world and you need yet another internet plan to stay online. 

Fortunately, you don’t need separate plans for each device. One plan plus a Wi-Fi modem is all that is required to connect up to five devices at once, wirelessly.

Tethering and Wi-Fi hotspots

If you own:

  • an Android smartphone on 2.2 or later
  • an iPhone 4 or 4S running iOS 4.3 and above
  • a Windows phone running Mango 7.5 or above
  • a Nokia N9

You can turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot. Generally, there will be an option for creating a hotspot in your settings. This is slightly different to tethering, where a physical connection needs to be made between the phone and the device but the effect is the same: you’re using the phone’s 3G data to connect to the internet on a different device.

This is a really useful function for those situations when you want to share your connection with a friend, or you really need a bigger screen to work with. It’s very easy to set up and there is no need to buy extra hardware.

The disadvantages of tethering and Wi-Fi hotspots include running through your data very quickly, as most smartphone plans only include around 1GB, and burning through battery life. Also, some carriers may charge for using their data services for tethering, so give your provider a quick call first, or check your account online to find out if there are any fees.

If you need to access the internet outside of your normal Wi-Fi network on a regular basis, consider another solution instead: pocket Wi-Fi.

Pocket Wi-Fi

Pocket Wi-Fi is Vodafone’s catchier name for its Wi-Fi 3G modem. Wi-Fi 3G modems work in the same way as smartphone hotspots, creating a private Wi-Fi network from a mobile broadband connection.

Wi-Fi 3G modems have some advantages over tethering and smartphone hotspots. More data available is available, up to 18GB on some plans.

In addition, Pocket Wi-Fi users won’t use up their smartphone battery, essential when out and about without a charger.

This is a much better option if you need to regularly access the internet away from a trusted Wi-Fi network. Several providers offer a Wi-Fi device, including Vodafone, Virgin Mobile and Optus.

  • Vodafone’s device is free with a $29, 6GB data plan on a 12 or 24-month contract, or for a one-off fee of $39 on a month-to-month plan. Pocket Wi-Fi features an OLED screen showing signal strength and number of devices connected. Up to 5 devices can connect at the same time and the modem boasts 5 hours of battery life
  • Virgin Mobile offers a 3G Wi-Fi modem that can connect up to 8 devices at the same time, with up to 4 hours of battery life. Virgin Mobile’s 3G Wi-Fi modem is available for free on a $29 a month 6GB plan, on a 12-month contract
  • Optus also offers a Wi-Fi modem, available for free on a 12-month contract with a data plan, including $32.95 a month for 5GB.

Public Wi-Fi hotspots

Publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots at airports and cafes are an alternative option to private Wi-Fi networks. However, there are security issues to consider when connecting to a public network. Having your own private network, generated by a Wi-Fi modem or by a smartphone, may be a safer as well as a more convenient option.