I spent last week in Barcelona, Spain, covering the annual Mobile World Congress wireless extravaganza. Though it's great to be in a city like Barcelona, working outside the United States poses logistical challenges. For me it's not about the money or the language, but rather about finding enough Internet access (that's something you really need when writing online content).
When I'm in Spain, I can't use a CNET-issued Sprint wireless card because Europe doesn't use CDMA technology. But even if I had a GSM card from T-Mobile or AT&T, the roaming rates would be killer. Indeed, uploading photos and videos would consume a lot of bandwidth that my expense report couldn't handle. In the past few years I've found Internet access where I could, either in the press room or at my hotel, but company press conferences always posed a problem. Not only is the Wi-Fi , but also you have to battle scores of other data-hungry journalists for a signal.
Fortunately, XCom Global provided a better solution this year. Along with my usual gear, I was able to bring one of the company's MiFi Hotspots. It's not an overstatement when I say that thing was a lifesaver. I continually had Internet access wherever I went--even at a press conference that was partially underground--and the speeds were more than sufficient for everything from tweeting to publishing a slideshow.
The MiFi and its parts come in a convenient carrying pouch that measures 7.25 inches long by 5.5 inches wide by 1.75 inches deep. I could fit it easily into my laptop bag when traveling and when walking the show floor. Inside the bag was the compact MiFi device (3.86 inches long by 2.44 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep, weighing 2.86 ounces), an extra battery (more on that later), a power cord, and the necessary plug adapters for traveling abroad. The MiFi uses a standard Micro-USB port for charging, and there's a microSD card slot that can support cards of up to 16GB.
Using the device is beyond easy. Just turn on the MiFi and point your laptop or smartphone to the wireless network. Though the network will not be secured at your first connection time, you can secure it with a password later. Either way, you'll connect automatically the next time you use it.
The MiFi can support up to five devices at one time, though I used it only with my laptop and an iPhone. In either case, the connection speeds were quite fast (for Spain, XCom promises a speed of up to 7.2Mbps). In fact, it took just a couple of minutes to upload a 16-photo slideshow of . And that was done while crouching on the floor of a theater at HTC's press conference.
As I mentioned, I had no difficulty getting a signal during my trip. The MiFi hooks into the network of a local carrier, which in my case was Vodafone Spain. Of course, since you're using a cellular network, your experience will vary by location. You should be fine in urban areas, but signals can peter out in rural areas, underground, or in the interiors of large buildings.