Who to call?

"Now that I'm connected, what's the best way to get online?"

I'm frequently asked this question by travelers, particularly those venturing into new territory or off the beaten path.  And it's a good question -- with the proliferation of RJ-11 jacks and upgraded telecommunications systems in a good portion of the world, many times the real challenge is no longer how to hook up your modem.  It's how to access the Internet (or your company network) once you are hooked up.  What might be the best way for you depends on your needs and your budget.  Let's look at some of the options.

Your Present ISP

Unless you use one of the Global ISPs discussed below, making an international call to your present ISP could be an expensive proposition.  It can be done, and I've been in situations where I really didn't have much choice.  Besides the obvious expense (which can be quite high when hotel tariffs are added to international calling rates), you shouldn't expect an optimum data connection when dialing in to a server thousands of miles away.

AT&T Direct Software.   If you must call your home ISP, the best you might hope for is to avoid expensive international calling tariffs.  If you have an AT&T Calling Card, you can use AT&T's special software to call the US through the local access number in the country you're visiting.  The software is available for Windows only.

Global ISPs

Global ISPs are much like regular ISPs, with the exception that they have POPs, or Points Of Presence (local access numbers) that can be used around the world.  Sometimes their overseas locations, or "nodes," are operated as an integral part of their operations just as it is in their home country.  In many cases, however, they use cooperative agreements with other local networks, just like those used by global roaming services discussed in the following section.  Network surcharges based on time used are usually applied in addition to the regular service fee.  These can vary from place to place and sometimes can be rather steep.  It would be a good idea to research the types of fees you will be charged in a specific destination to avoid unpleasant surprises afterwards.

One of the all-time best global ISP services was IBM.net, while it lasted.  When I first joined, IBM offered unlimited connection time with no network surcharges when overseas.  I suppose all good things like this must end, and so it did.  First, IBM did away with unlimited service, introducing a charge when used more than a certain number of hours per month.  Soon afterwards, they began charging extra for connecting outside of the subscriber's home country.  Eventually, IBM.net was acquired and rolled into what is now AT&T (see below).  

AOL (America OnLine).  Many Internet old-timers still grimace at the mention of AOL, remembering the onslaught of newbies unleashed when the company first offered Internet access.  Like it or not, AOL is now the world's largest online service and a media superpower in its own right.  AOL appeals most to families and individuals who don't want to spend a lot of time fussing with things like POP3 settings and logon scripts -- AOL's proprietary software makes this unnecessary.  Though they first offered international access many years ago, their global presence increased greatly when they acquired CompuServe a few years back.  If you're already an AOL user, they should probably be your first choice when traveling overseas, though there are some places their network doesn't cover.

CompuServeYes, it's owned by AOL, yet still maintained as a separate information service.  I've been using it since 1984 -- long before AOL became involved.  CompuServe was known as one of the most technically proficient online services long before most of its users understood how important that could be.  As a long-time user, I subscribe to the classic service, which allows good access to POP3 e-mail.  It's my understand that CompuServe 2000 uses IMAP e-mail.  Either way, you should be able to access the Internet and any POP3 account by using CompuServe's Dial-Up Networking (DUN) capability for Windows.  CompuServe is also very business-friendly, allowing companies to establish group accounts with central billing.  There are issues with CompuServe Classic with Windows 2000 and Windows XP.  For both, you need to install the NT version of CompuServe's Classic software.  For Windows 2000, you need to manually configure the DUN connection.  For XP, if you plan to be making dial-up connections, the CompuServe Connection Manager for Windows XP will be helpful.  You can download everything you need from www.safisoft.com.

UUNET.  UUNET, a WorldCom company, is a global ISP with more than 2500 POPs on five continents.  They are strongly represented in Europe, North America (particularly the US, but also the larger Canadian cities), Southeast Asia and Australia, though they lack service to much of Latin America and all of China, Russia, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and the African Continent.  As with all global ISPs, access to POPs outside one's home area may be subject to additional network connection charges.

AT&T Business Internet Services offers local numbers in more than 140 countries.  The service has good coverage in North America and most of Europe and Southeast Asia.   As with all global ISPs, new numbers are regularly added (and sometimes removed).

Earthlink.  Earthlink offers widespread coverage in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and portions of Southeast Asia.  They offer a variety of services, including broadband, dial-up and wireless access.

Global Internet Roaming Services

Global roaming services differ from global ISPs in that, for the most part, these aren't ISPs so much as they are companies that have cooperative agreements/partnerships with numerous ISPs around the world.  The services and rate plans offered by each can vary greatly.  Some require a regular subscription, with additional usage fees.  Some charge only when the service is actually used.  Some may offer ISP-like features such as e-mail and web space, while others may not.

Net-Roamer.  If you travel and use the Internet, you can use Net-roamer's Global Internet Roaming service.  This service provides access to the Internet and e-mail through over 11,000 ISPs around the world in over 150 countries. Access is made through a local call.  Net-roamer has also launched a companion service for Palm and Windows Pocket PC devices (PDAs) through PDA-roaming.com.

MaGlobe.  MaGlobe's Premium Roaming is a prepaid service, allowing subscribers to access all MaGlobe worldwide locations with a single Username and Password. This account can be accessed regardless of who you use for your ISP.  Coverage is strong in Australia, US,  Europe, the Middle East, and India (sometimes a difficult place for roaming).  

iPass.  The most interesting aspect of this service is the ability to accommodate dial-up, ISDN, PHS, 802.11b, DSL and cable remote connections within one easy-to-use application.  I use iPass, as it sometimes has local nodes in places CompuServe does not (China and Margarita Island, Venezuela are examples).  It may pay to shop amongst iPass providers, as some charge a monthly subscription fee whilst others charge for usage only.

Roam International.  An iPass affiliate that charges for usage only, no monthly subscription fee.

GRIC.  GRIC stands for Global Reach Internet Connection.  I believe that, like iPass, GRIC requires an account with one of their ISP partners in order to use the roaming services.

Other Options

Hotel-provided ISPs.  A growing number of hotels (particularly among the larger chains) offer their own in-room Internet connections.  In many hotels, ISP access is not just through dial-up, but  increasingly through broadband services using either a standard Ethernet connection or WiFi.  These systems usually require a network/wireless card or built-in connection for your laptop, though these are often available at many hotels.  A potential downside of using someone else's ISP is that while you may be able to retrieve e-mail, you might not be able to send it.  This is because many ISPs, in an effort to block spam, do not allow those who aren't regular subscribers to use their outgoing mail servers.   And watch out -- like mini-bar charges and sometimes even local phone calls, using the hotel's ISP can be surprisingly costly.

Local ISPs.  If you're going to going to be on a extended assignment or stay of a couple of months or more, it might be economical to obtain a local Internet Service Provider at your destination.  The List is a very informative site with details on ISPs around the globe.

Free ISPs.  In portions of Europe (especially the UK), North America and elsewhere, certain areas are served by a variety of free Internet Service Providers.  Most are supported by advertising, and some post restrictions on usage time.  However, the price is hard to beat, and they might be good for short-term use or in a pinch.  One site that lists a number of free ISPs around the world is the Freesite.com.  Another is this list of Free Internet Access Providers (Caution: when I checked out some free providers listed for the US, one was no longer in service, and the other offered a porno ad.)

Conclusion

It's likely there's no one perfect solution to the global connection issue unless your travels are rather straightforward and take you only to larger cities in Western Europe, the Americas, Asia or Australia.  If your travels frequently take you to smaller or more remote areas, particularly in regions like India, Russia or China, you might need to look into a more specialized service.  Perhaps a combination of the services available will suit you best, as it does me.


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/roaming.htm -- Updated 01 December 2006
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