It is also little known fact that the fundamentals of the technology is actually an Australian invention which came out of CSIRO's pioneering work in radioastronomy!
It is a very handy bit of technology for the average traveller.
However, there are two major shortcomings:
1. Coverage is patchy.
Patchy means you can get caught out when you most need it.
2. WiFi is not secure.
Not secure means you can end up in big trouble if you access any account information from email, facebook and obviously banking over it.
There is also a third point. Half the time you have to pay for it anyway!
So a bit more on both of these…
The coverage issue is fairly self-explanatory.
You land overseas, and you have a full signal at the airport, great!
You catch a cab, bus or rickshaw – end up in the backblocks of some random town, and you soon realise the driver actually doesn’t have a clue where that hotel you booked is. Of course most times it works out if you speak the local tongue, or have a map/Lonely Planet handy, or don’t end finding it, but find somewhere better instead.
Hell I’m all for getting lost, and not relying solely on technology- I once drove 16,000 km with a mate from London to Mongolia with nothing but maps and a smile!
But the point is, that there is plenty of times when life would be a hell of a lot more simple if you just knew where you were and where you were heading. There are a million and one reasons why Google Maps is the No. 1 travel App. Even when Apple tried replacing Google Maps with their inferior product, I felt openly frustrated that my personal navigator had been replaced.
So the big one is maps, but not having a connection can be equally painful for anything from needing to ‘just quickly check’ your email, facebook messages (what was that address?), or shoot off a quick reply or message to say your still alive/on your way/ or just run into a bear.
And then the other big one, which most people are blissfully unaware about- security.
Fraudsters have a bag of tricks at their disposal to trick you into giving them all your digital data, and WiFi hotspots are a big weak spot. And it is only getting easier for them to do it, as most of the software needed to it can be downloaded and installed following some rather detailed guides out there on the web.
A few of the main methods are:
- Setting up a ‘Free Public WiFi’ network that you see is unlocked, you use, and they track and snatch every bit of data you send through their network
- There is also numerous accounts of networks from hotels to Starbucks and McDonalds who have had their network compromised, and that same tracking software installed on their WiFi networks.
It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, a public network is just that- it’s public and it probably isn’t the best idea to be sending any passwords, credit card details or bank logins over it.
So what can you do to prevent this?
Well an advantage of a mobile SIM data connection (that obviously I happen to sell), your connection is a much more secure/encrypted connection direct with the Telco provider. Nothing is foolproof, but it’s a damn good start.
Its also never a bad idea to have the latest virus protection on your computer, have shared folders turned off, business users should think about using a VPN, and make sure you logout of your accounts. The other no-technical catch is someone just looking over your shoulder (‘shoulder surfing’), so yes sometimes a bit of healthy paranoia doesn’t hurt!
It may sound obvious but if looks dodgy, it probably is…particularly if you are sitting in some Eastern European café surrounded by guys in black leather jacket, sunglasses and no smiles, and a ‘Free WiFi’ signal pops up!
The problem is that nothing stops those same guys hacking your local café WiFi and doing the same thing.
Do yourself a favour, get a local SIM and surf wherever you want and without the risk on your next trip…you’ll still have to keep an eye out for bears though! :-)
Written by Peter Cain
Peter Cain is the Founder and CEO of dataGO.co, a company committed to making it easier and cheaper to stay connected whilst travelling. You can find him on Twitter and Google+. You can also find dataGO on Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn, and Google+ for all the latest info on local and roaming SIMs and data hotspots.