The first time I traveled to Ireland with a smartphone, I set up an international data plan and STILL came home with a $650 phone bill. OUCH! I easily talked my carrier down to around $200, but I will never forget how the first glance at that bill made my stomach swell uncomfortably into my throat.
Internet options for travelers to Ireland have improved greatly over the years, but outside of free WiFi in hotels and some businesses, I find there’s still a risk of coming home to unexpected costs for connecting to the internet.
For the last few years, I’ve been successfully using an Irish mobile phone that doubles as a WiFi hotspot. However, spending over €100 on a phone and then topping up the data is not the most economical choice for someone spending less than a month in Ireland.
Hunting for a better way to get online
This summer, my pursuit to find a reliable, affordable, and versatile internet option led me to Travel WiFi (www.travelwifi.ie – Irish fireside partner), an Irish-based company that rents portable WiFi devices for a flat fee. Here’s how they work:
- You choose a plan on their website… currently €59 for 7 days, €79 for 14 days, or €104 for a month + a €50 refundable deposit — for access in the Republic of Ireland.
- Place your order using a credit card.
- They ship the device to your accommodation or another address of your choosing so it’s waiting for you when you arrive, OR you collect it in-person from their Dublin office OR you can pay to have it shipped to your home.
- When you’re done using it, pack the device and its accessories into the return envelope provided and drop at a Post office… the postage is already paid!
WiFi and accessories
The size of the Travel WiFi device compares to a standard smartphone (think iPhone, not iPhone Plus). A button on the side powers up the machine. When it acquires a signal, an icon on the front shows the connection strength. A tap of the button reveals the battery strength. Overall, a very simple gadget to operate.
Along with the device, there’s a handy plastic pouch holding a charging cable, car charging adapter, wall charging adapter, a pen and pad for taking notes, and a business card revealing the WiFi signal name and password. I simply turned on the device, looked for the WiFi signal using my American smartphone, entered the password, and I was online in less than two minutes. The process was just as easy to connect a computer, a Kindle, and an Android tablet… ALL AT THE SAME TIME.
I was pleased with the connection speed. It compared with the 4G connections I get on my phone when in the US (it actually seemed faster)… more than enough for email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, and other apps.
Better yet, I didn’t have to worry about my data usage. I freely uploaded and emailed photos and videos without the fear of overage/roaming charges. AND the device traveled with me, so I could post on-the-go without having to look for a public WiFi connection or wait until I arrived at my accommodation.
A few things you should know
- Coverage: Ireland’s landscape can result in “dead zones” while you travel and some remote areas simply won’t have coverage. That said, I found I was rarely without a connection for very long with Travel WiFi.
- Battery: The battery easily lasted over 5 hours (one day it was on for 12 hours and still had a charge), so the service was great to document my hillside hikes or strolls around town.
- Shipping: If you are having your device shipped to your accommodation or a business, be sure to alert them in advance, and make sure the name on the WiFi matches the name on the accommodation reservation.
- Returns: Slip the return envelope in the carrying case as soon as you open the package. That way, you won’t lose it.
- Speed: The speed is perfect for regular internet usage, but it is not as fast as most broadband connections, and your videos might not come up in high definition.
- Orders: You should place your order at least a week in advance. If you’re making last-minute plans, contact Travel WiFi directly. FYI – they’re quick to respond via Facebook (www.facebook.com/TravelWifiIre).
- Device: Technology is always changing, so you might not get the exact same device I used.
- Unlimited: They really mean unlimited… fortunately, there is no magic threshold where your service stops or slows down or you’re required to upgraded your plan. This is a HUGE asset. You can stream videos and use data-heavy apps with Travel WiFi. That said, there is a chance your data could be “throttled” or slowed down by the network provider if there is heavy use (I never noticed this happen, and I would likely use more data than the average visitor).
- Plans: If you’re traveling to Northern Ireland, you’ll need to get an Ireland & the UK plan… if you’re traveling elsewhere, you can book a Global plan.
- Price: Compared to other services that rent WiFi devices, I found Travel WiFi’s prices extremely competitive… especially compared to US-based providers. And in the mobile phone arena, international plans from US carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint offer comparably priced international plans for their customers; but unlike travel WiFi, they come with serious data limits.
- Security: While no WiFi service is 100% safe from cyber criminals, traveling with your own signal is significantly safer than tapping public WiFi.
- Roaming: You still need to disable data roaming/data use on your personal device to avoid charges from your home carrier.
If you give Travel WiFi a try, be sure to let them know the Irish Fireside sent you!