Technology

Where to Find the Fastest Wi-Fi on the Road

Posted July 30, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

 

If you've got a need for (Internet) speed, a new report from Wefi can tell you which airports, hotel chains, and even beaches are best when it comes to connectivity.

The company, which collects and measures mobile data, tracked 45 million hot spots from April 1 to June 15, 2014. What they found was that the biggest and most popular destinations often don't crack the top 10.

Leading the pack of airports, Detroit wins for fastest Wi-Fi, with an average speed of 4.63 mbps. (This writer can attest to the decent Internet speeds at Detroit Metro, for she once spent an entire eight-hour delay there successfully streaming Friday Night Lights.) The Red Roof Inns chain tops the hotel category, with an average speed of 4.34 mbps. And, for beach seekers who like to pack a laptop (who are you?), Clearwater Beach, Florida, is your hot spot in the sun (although beachside Wi-Fi speeds are low across the board).

Here is the complete list of airports, hotels, and beaches with the fastest Wi-Fi. Click to see an infographic with more stats.

Top Airports with the Fastest Wi-Fi:

1. Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan (4.63 mbps)
2. Denver International Airport, Colorado (4.33 mbps)
3. Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Florida (3.74 mbps)
4. Los Angeles International Airport, California (3.29 mbps)
5. Washington Dulles International Airport, Virginia (3.09 mbps)
6. Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, Arizona (2.88 mbps)
7. LaGuardia Airport, New York (2.67 mbps)
8. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Georgia (2.66 mbps)
9. Logan International Airport, Massachusetts (2.51 mbps)
10. Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, Minnesota (2.45 mbps)
11. McCarran International Airport, Nevada (2.41 mbps)
12. San Francisco International Airport, California (2.29 mbps)

Top Hotels with the Fastest Wi-Fi:

1. Red Roof Inns (4.34 mbps)
2. Sleep Inn (4.14 mbps)
3. Ramada (3.69 mbps)
4. Holiday Inn (3.68 mbps)
5. Best Western (3.66 mbps)
6. Aloft Hotels (3.42 mbps)
7. Studio 6 (3.22 mbps)
8. Hilton (3.17 mbps)
9. Quality Inns (3.15 mbps)
10. Four Points by Sheraton (3.04 mbps)
11. Comfort Inn (2.99 mbps)
12. Candlewood Suites (2.69 mbps)
13. Radisson (2.43 mbps)
14. Clarion (2.42 mbps)
15. Doubletree Hotel (2.32 mbps)

Top Beaches with the Fastest Wi-Fi:

1. Clearwater Beach, Florida (2.9 mbps)
2. Atlantic City, New Jersey (2.8 mbps)
3. Mission Beach, California (2.1 mbps)
4. South Beach Miami, Florida (1.9 mbps)
5. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (1.8 mbps)
6. Santa Monica, California (1.8 mbps)
7. Waikiki Beach, Hawaii (1.6 mbps)
8. Newport Beach, California (1.2 mbps)
9. Hermosa Beach, California (1.1 mbps)

Readers, do you choose destinations based on Wi-Fi connectivity?

(Photo: Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Where to Find the Fastest Wi-Fi on the Road.

Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

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A Primer on In-Flight Connectivity

Posted July 2, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Getty Images/Vetta)

These days, everybody wants to be connected all the time. The airline industry, not one to ignore consumers—at least not when the airlines stand to make a buck—are hopping on the onboard-connectivity movement as quickly as they can. Here's what you need to know.

 

(Photo: Little Boy with Tablet in Airplane Cabin via Shutterstock)

Entertainment Counters Misery

Why is in-flight connectivity so important to airlines? They realize that many of us have withdrawal symptoms when we aren't wired in to the system. Also, a few airline execs have actually confirmed what many suspected: They view a heavy dose of in-flight entertainment as a way of taking passengers' minds off the terrible crowding and lousy service in the main cabin. And, of course, there's always the chance to add another service for which the airlines can ding you for a fee, an option that always gives those execs a warm feeling.

For whatever reason, in-flight connectivity, along with flat-bed seats in international business class, is the current big thing in air travel. The assumption that you want to be connected during your flight is so strong that these days you find airline crews lowering the window shades and darkening the cabin as soon as the plane reaches cruising altitude—even during daytime flights.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Movies: Almost Universal

Most big domestic and international airlines have some form of in-flight movies available in all mainline jets and typically also in the newest large regional Embraer 170-195 series.

Older jets that airlines plan to retire soon typically still use the original system: screens that drop down from the cabin ceiling and show just one film at a time. But those conventional in-flight movie systems are, as the young would put it, so 20th century. Now the new standard is to offer a wide variety of programming, through some mix of on-demand movies and live multichannel satellite TV broadcasts. New planes almost always come with a multichannel on-demand system. And airlines are retrofitting older jets with similar hardware.

Currently, only three North American airlines (other than regionals) offer no in-flight entertainment at all: Allegiant, Porter, and Spirit.

 

(Photo: Air Canada)

On-Demand Is the New Standard

The current standard for up-to-date in-flight on-demand movies delivers programming through either individual seatback screens or handheld tablets. On airlines that use tablets, you can "rent" the device; on a few, you can connect with your own tablet, smartphone, or laptop. Typically, you pay by time or by movie; for folks in the upper-class cabins, this service may be included.

U.S. and Canadian airlines with on-demand movies in economy class on mainline jets include Air Canada (individual seatback screens on all planes), AirTransat (individual seatback screens on 330s only), Alaska (tablets on all planes), American (individual seatback screens on all new and refurbished planes), Delta (individual seatback screens on newer planes), Hawaiian (individual seatback screens on 330s and tablets on 767s), Sun Country (tablets on all planes), United (individual seatback screens on limited planes), US Airways (individual seatback screens on international 330s), Virgin America (individual seatback screens on all planes), and WestJet (tablets on seven planes).

 

(Photo: Anthony Quintano via flickr/CC Attribution)

Some Airlines Offer Live TV

Airlines with satellite TV reception on at least some planes include Delta (individual touch screens on some planes), Frontier (tablets on all planes), JetBlue (individual touch screens on 40 planes so far), Southwest (your own device on most planes), United (individual touch screens on almost all 737s and 757s other than PS versions), and Virgin America (individual touch screens on all planes). Typical pricing is around $5–6 for a few hours to $8–10 for the entire flight.

 

(Photo: Plane Flying Over Water via Shutterstock)

Gogo Works Over Land Only

Although you can get Internet reception on many flights these days, you'll find substantial differences in capability and pricing. Gogo operates through links from the plane to ground stations it flies over along the way. The system architecture mimics cell phone coverage: As the flight moves along, it passes connections, tower to tower, and coverage is limited to flights over land. Currently, Gogo has equipped more than 2,000 planes: Air Canada (planes used for Montreal and Toronto to Los Angeles flights), Air Tran (all planes, but the 717s are being sold to Delta), Alaska (all but nine obsolete planes), American (almost all domestic planes), Delta (all domestic mainline and large regional planes), United (most 320s and all PS 757s), US Airways (all 320s), and Virgin America (all planes). Gogo standard pricing starts at $5 for one continuous hour.

The downside to Gogo is bandwidth. You've probably seen some reports of very slow online speeds when lots of travelers are connected. Gogo says it's working to improve bandwidth, but that remains a problem for potential users. Also, Gogo doesn't work until the plane reaches 10,000 feet.

 

(Photo: Man on Laptop via Shutterstock)

Satellite Has Some Big Advantages

Satellite coverage comes in two flavors: the older Ku-band service provided by Panasonic and Row 44, and the newer, faster Ka-band system from ViaSat. Satellite service is available anywhere within "view" of the transmitter, so it can work over oceans as long as they're covered by a satellite. Airlines with some satellite-based Internet include American (777-300s only), Delta (some planes), JetBlue (currently installing very-fast Ka-band on 320s), and Southwest (425 planes so far).

The big advantages of satellite Internet are that it's available over water and it provides substantially better bandwidth than ground systems. Additionally, it's available during the entire flight, often even when the plane is on the ground. A minor disadvantage is latency: The signal has to travel 44,000 miles round-trip between plane and satellite, resulting in a noticeable but not really troublesome delay.

Typical pricing runs from about $5 per hour to $20 for a full day. JetBlue plans to offer two levels: a low-priced base service and a premium high-speed service suitable for video streaming for $9 per hour.

 

(Photo: Karlis Dambrans via flickr/CC Attribution)

AT&T 4G Is Waiting in the Wings

AT&T is reportedly about to launch a service that will provide 4G mobile in-flight connectivity. Like Gogo, it will be ground based, but AT&T is touting high-bandwidth capability. Presumably, the system will build on AT&T's extensive experience with wireless phone technology. Look for it to start sometime late next year.

 

(Photo: Lufthansa)

Europe Has a Slow Start on In-Flight Wi-Fi

Airlines based in Europe and the Pacific lag behind their North American competitors with regards to in-flight Wi-Fi. They didn't start as early because Gogo, the original system, did not install its ground-based system outside of North America.

For long overwater flights, the newer satellite systems are the only available technologies, and as of a little less than a year ago, full-flight Wi-Fi was available on only 29 transatlantic and transpacific daily flights, mostly on Lufthansa and American, with a handful on Etihad and Singapore. Presumably, the big airlines will play catch-up as quickly as they can, and several have announced extensive installations coming within the next year or two.

 

(Photo: Matthew Hurst via flickr/CC Attribution)

How to Tell If Your Flight Has Wi-Fi

One of the most vexing aspects of in-flight options—especially Wi-Fi—is that most airlines fail to show which flights have Wi-Fi in their initial search displays. Some don't even tell you until you've already bought your ticket, or they suggest that you check the website a day or two before departure to see whether the flight to which you're already committed actually has Wi-Fi. A few carriers just say, "See if the plane has Wi-Fi when you board." Feh!

Among the airlines that do offer Wi-Fi, Delta shows availability on its initial search-results page for all flights; US Airways shows Gogo availability on flights on 320 planes, and Virgin America doesn't have to tell you because all flights have it.

If you really want to make sure a flight you're considering has Wi-Fi before you buy your ticket, your best bet is to use one of the three big search engines that show Wi-Fi availability for all airlines on their search-results pages: Routehappy and TripAdvisor Flights (our parent company) show Wi-Fi and individual-screen entertainment availability, and Kayak shows Wi-Fi availability on the initial leg of round-trip or multi-stop displays. A test search shows that CheapOair, CheapTickets, Expedia, Google, Hipmunk, Hotwire, Orbitz, Priceline, and Travelocity do not reveal Wi-Fi or personal-screen availability. Southwest, which does not allow third-party search engines to include its fares, does not show Wi-Fi availability on its website.

SeatGuru shows availability of Wi-Fi and video by airline and plane model; however, for airlines that have started but not completed installation, SeatGuru does not distinguish planes with and without.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Nine Things You Need to Know About Staying Connected in Flight.

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10 Ways to Prepare Your Cell Phone for a Trip

Posted November 8, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

580x382hipsterswithphones

Charge up that phone the night before a trip: Most of us have this straightforward—yet vital—task down pat. But that's not all you need to do before bringing a phone abroad. Here are 10 additional tips that smartphone-wielding travelers should heed before hitting the road, from adding travel apps to guarding against exorbitant roaming charges.

580x382Knowyourphone

Know Your Plan (and Your Phone)

Step one: Examine your phone. Only GSM and CDMA phones will work abroad. Check with your provider to verify that your phone is operable overseas. Step two: Examine your phone plan. A thorough investigation of your data and calling contract will reveal exactly how much it will cost to make a few phone calls or download some emails while abroad. It's expensive, right? That's where step three comes in: Consider buying an international calling or data package. If you plan on using your device overseas and don't want to swap out your SIM card (more on that later), an international plan is likely a wise investment. Simply call your provider and request a temporary plan that works in your destination of choice; in most cases, you can cancel the plan upon return (just make sure there's no minimum-length-of-time requirement).

One provider in particular, however, doesn't necessitate the purchase of an international package. Earlier this month, T-Mobile announced that it will get rid of roaming charges for data usage in more than 100 countries, and it will cap international calling rates at 20 cents per minute.

580x382considertextpackage

Consider a Text Package

One or two text messages from the road might be all you need to use during your trip. You might want to text your family to let them know you've arrived safely, text your pet or house sitter, or send a cheery text from the beach to make a friend jealous. Sound good? Then purchase a text package before you leave. For example, AT&T offers Global Messaging Packages that start at $10 per month for 50 messages sent from more than 150 countries. Messages received are deducted from your domestic plan.

580x382Gettherightgadgets

Get the Right Gadgets

From portable batteries to travel-friendly phone cases, a range of gear and add-ons will enhance and protect your phone while abroad. Some of our favorites include the MapiCases leather belt-clip iPhone case; myCharge and New Trent's rechargeable, portable battery packs; and GoSwype microfiber cleaning cloths.

580x382turnoffdata

Turn Off Data

If you don't plan on using data while abroad but plan to pack your phone, there are two steps you need to take before departure: Turn off cellular data and turn off data roaming. You'll find instructions for doing so on an iPhone here, and here for an Android phone. Contact your cellular provider for further details on shutting off data. Fail to shut down the automatic downloads that bring emails, program updates, meeting notifications, and other data to your phone and you'll likely see some very expensive roaming charges on your bill at the end of the month.

580x382Stockuponapps

Stock up on Apps

There are umpteen mobile apps that could prove very valuable on your trip. Ideally, you'll want to snap them up well before your departure date, so that you have time to research, compare prices, and, of course, download the apps before you leave. Some of these might include flight-notification apps, map apps, itinerary apps, language-translation apps, destination-guide apps, gas-finder apps, and weather apps. For more ideas, see Nine Apps That May Change How You Travel and 10 Free Travel Apps You've Never Heard of.

580x382entertainment

Download Entertainment

Avoid data charges for big downloads on the road by lining up your music and entertainment purchases before you head out that door. Does your airline offer good in-flight entertainment? If not, a few episodes of your favorite show might make coach class a little more bearable. Will your hotel room have an iPod player? If yes, then a new album or two could enliven your stay. Further, there's little that will improve a long cross-country rail trip or an interminable wait at the airport more than a diverting and fun new playlist.

580x382packincarryon

Pack Chargers and Adapters in Your Carry-on

On the road, chargers and adapters are as important as your phone itself; after a day or two, your device is useless without them. You wouldn't put your iPhone in your checked luggage, right? So your charger and adapter need to go in your personal item or carry-on bag with your other essentials (medicine, wallet, identification, etc.). This way, if your suitcase gets lost, you won't need to pay a visit to one of these airport vending machines to buy a new charger.

580x382Takeimportantphotos

Take Some Important Photos

This tip is more about using your phone to prepare for your trip than preparing your phone; nonetheless, it belongs on your to-do list. Prepare a digital backup in case your identification gets lost or stolen. With your camera phone, take a photo of your passport or driver's license, and email the photo to yourself. You might also want to take a photo of the contents of your checked bag, which may come in handy if the airline loses your luggage. (Use the photo to help document your missing belongings when filling out a claim form.) Throughout your trip, take advantage of the camera on your phone and snap photos of anything that might serve as a helpful reminder, from your airport parking-lot spot to your hotel-room number.

But first, you need to ensure that you have space on your phone to store such images, which brings us to our next tip.

580x382checkstorage

Check Available Storage

The perfect yet ephemeral travel shot appears: a candy-red sunset or a humpback's tail emerging from the ocean. You aim, shoot … and a message appears on your phone saying that there is no available storage left. You lost the shot! Argh! To prevent this pesky little mishap, check your phone's storage before you leave. On an iPhone, for example, you can do this via the "General" tab within "Settings."

Free up room on your phone by transferring photos and videos to your computer, deleting unused apps, and clearing your Internet cache.

580x382countryspecificsimcard

Get a Country-Specific SIM Card

Will you be spending a lot of time in one particular country? A prepaid SIM card for the region you're visiting is an economical choice for overseas phone usage, and it allows you to make calls and use data exactly as many locals do: through a local provider. Switch your SIM card and you'll have a new local phone number and likely an affordable plan that puts scary-expensive international calling packages to shame. You won't be able to make or receive calls via your usual phone number, though.

Here's how to get one: Either pick one up prior to your departure date or get one from a local store after you arrive. We recommend the former, especially for those who don't want to waste precious trip time shopping around for SIM cards. You can order the cards online from companies such as Telestial and Brightroam.

But remember that not all phones will accept new SIM cards. You must have an "unlocked" GSM phone for this to work.

 

 

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Ways to Prepare Your Cell Phone for a Trip. 

 Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at at editor@smartertravel.com.

 


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