I travel to the US very regularly and before learning about Roam Mobility, I had to either pay my carrier exhorbitant roaming fees or try to find a temporary SIM card when I arrived in the US (which isn't always easy). Obviously having my US 3G coverage arranged before I start my trip is my prefered option and Roam has been my go to solution. I typically use the Roam Mobility SIM card with my unlocked iPhone 4s but during my last trip, I decided to take their Liberty Hotspot instead.
What is the Liberty hotspot
The Liberty Hotspot is a very small WIFI hotspot that connect's to Roam Mobolity's US network (aka T-Mobile) and deliver beautiful internet connectivity for up to 5 devices. The device itself is extremely small and I ended up carrying it in my dress shirt pocket most of the time.
The device has a small LCD monitor on the front that displays signal strength, battery left and the number of clients currently connected. Connecting a device is as simple as pressing the WPS button (if the client supports it) or using the pre-configured password printed inside the battery compartment. For the more technical audience, you can connect to a simple web interface and change the default WIFI name and password.
The kit comes with the device, a battery, sim card, USB cable and wall charger.
Roam claims the devices battery should last about 4 hours and my testing shows that they are fairly close. I was in the US for 5 days and kept charging and using the device. I found in my testing that the battery lasted between 3-4.5 hours depending on how aggressively I was using the internet.
While in the car, I had a dual-port USB Charger that allowed me to keep my cell and the hotspot constantly charged.
Why a WIFI Hostpot
There are dozens of use cases when a wifi hotspot could be useful but here are the ones I lived when in Wichita (Kansas)
USE CASE 1 - Using a MAP app with traffic data
Although I have an on device GPS software (Navigon), without internet connectivity, I lose access to live traffic data. Using the Liberty WIFI Hotspot, I was able to use Navigon, Waze and Google Maps to ensure I always used the optimal route.
USE CASE 2 - Connectivity in the hotel
Although my hotel offered free WIFI internet, there was 1 day where the hotel WIFI was "broken" and having the Libery hospot meant I could still stay connected.
Most hotel networks are considered extremely hostile and it is possible for a "bad guest" to steal other guests WIFI traffic. Using your own 3G based WIFI hotspot is more secure.
USE CASE 3 - Finding restaurants
Not knowing the area, I used Google Now almost every evening to chose a restaurant for supper. By having connectivity on the go, I could find good restaurants, check ratings and make reservations via OpenTable.
USE CASE 4 - Using VOIP Telephony to save money
When travelling, I typically use a free VOIP app called FONGO to call home (in addition to using FacetIme video and Facetime audio). I used FONGO for free calling back to my Canadian contacts.
Should I use the data only Liberty Hotspot?
Roam Mobility does offer a SIM card based voice + text message + data plan but this requires that you have an unlocked cell phone (which most people don't), it requires that you configure your phone to use the Roam Mobility APN and it only works with that one device.
When choosing the Roam Mobility Data only plan via the Liberty Hotspot, you can connect up to 5 devices at the same time, you don't need an unlocked cellphone (since you connect to the hotpost via standard WIFI) and you don't need to play with any device APN settings.
How's the Liberty WIFI Hotspot performance?
I performed about a dozen speed tests and most averaged what you see above. Performance is far from the LTE based wireless connectivity we are used to at home but it is more than adequate for everyday use.
I found connectivity in the major metropolitan areas much better (faster) then what you get as you go further away from the downtown core.
I read 30-40 different T-Mobile review posts on various sites and most people reported that connectivity suffered greatly when you tried to connect deep inside dense buildings. When using it in a restaurant, my hotel room, or my office in Wichita, connectivity was acceptable. Anytime I went into a large store or mall, I could see my connectivity suffer and speeds drop dramatically.
Incredibly competitive pricing
As I was preparing to write this, I noticed that Roam Mobility dramatically reduced its data only plan prices (this week). [read the details of the new pricing here]
You see above the incredibly lowered new pricing. For my 1 week trip, I had a 1GB data plan which turned out to be more than enough even though I was using navigation daily, using VOIP to call back home, used it to VPN back into my corporate network and used it to browse the net.
Remember that most Canadian providers charge you $8 a day for 50MB. If you buy 3 days of access but consume more than 50MB in one day (even though you use less than 150MB over 3 days), you will be charged overage fees.
The Roam Data cap is available during the entire period and there is no daily cap. Plus for the cost of just 1 day and 50MB with Rogers/FIDO, you get 3 days of service and 300MB of data.
Overall I loved the device. It is small, light and easy to carry. Connecting my phone, tablet or laptop was quick and easy. Once I turned the device on, it connected to the US Roam Mobility network within 30 seconds and I was quickly up and running.
If you travel with multiple devices to the US then this is a fantastic option. I highly recommend Roam Mobility and love their Liberty WIFI Hotspot.