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Telecom Square Global Hotspot review: Easy Internet abroad, but best for heavy data users

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The Good Telecom Square's Global Hotspot service delivers a wireless data connection in many countries around the world. The ZTE MF60 hot spots are compact, and the ordering process is easy. Customer service is available 24 hours a day.

The Bad The base price is for one-country use only. For more countries, rates are more expensive than competing services. You must pay for overnight shipping, and cheaper options aren't available.

The Bottom Line Telecom Square's Global Hotspot is a dependable and convenient way to access the Internet while traveling, but you'll need to be a heavy data user to make the service economical.

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7.7 Overall

Review Sections

Telecom Square's international hot-spot service delivers a simple and effective way to access the Internet when you're traveling internationally. And though it doesn't come for pennies, it's comparable with rival services and, depending on your use, cheaper than using a roaming plan from a US carrier.

I used Telecom Square on a recent trip to Germany and Greece. Like any cellular-run hot spot, I had to depend on a local carrier's network to get online. Of course, that meant that performance varied widely depending on my exact location -- I'll explain in detail below -- but on the whole I was pleased with the experience. And as long as you consider your options and planned data use carefully, I suspect that you will be too.

Telecom Square's ZTE MF60 hot spots are lightweight and compact. Josh Miller/CNET

The service and cost
After you sign up for a hot-spot rental, Telecom Square overnights you the device just before your departure date. Then, after you use it on your trip and return home, you send it back to the company in an prepaid envelope. It's a simple process, though the shipping can cost you up to $29.95 without any special promotions (which the company occasionally runs). Alternatively, you can save yourself that fee by picking up a device in New York City or Los Angeles, but it would be better if the company also offered slower and less-expensive shipping options.

As I mentioned, Telecom Square's service is more business class than economy. Yet, if you're going to be a heavy data user while traveling, it can be cheaper than roaming through your carrier. Just understand that the base charge is a daily rental fee that depends on where you go. To begin, for $14.95 you can rent a hot spot that covers one country for unlimited data use. You can see the full list of covered nations here, but it includes the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, and 31 other common travel destinations in Asia, South America, and Europe. Though the list hits top business destinations like China, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Germany, it's particularly sparse in Africa and Latin America.

Granted, $15 a day may seem exorbitant, but it's actually pretty reasonable if you're traveling for business or if you're planning to constantly upload photos or use streaming-media services. Rival service XCom Global, which I've used in the past, also charges $14.95 per day for unlimited one-country use. Though that rate is limited to the Unites States and Europe, XCom covers more European countries than Telecom Square. Alternatively, you could adopt a roaming plan from a US carrier, but those pricing structures can get away from you quickly. Consider that AT&T's plans start at $30 per month for only 120MB of data ($30 is the minimum charge). That won't give you a lot of online time, so unless you're just occasionally checking e-mail and making travel plans, you'll need to limit your use (or pay overage fees in the range of $30 for each additional 120MB). Verizon Wireless has a similar plan structure, though it charges $25 for each 100MB of data that you use.

That's why if you're going to one place for a few days and don't want to think about how much data you're using, even $14.95 a day can save you money. Of course, the catch is that because wireless carriers don't cross national borders, your hot spot will work only in that one country. While that may not be a problem for a road trip across Australia, European vacations typically involve more than one stop. And it's for those transborder travelers that the economics of Telecom Square's service become less clear.

The company also rents a hot spot for $9.99 per day that works across 40 European countries, for example, but you're limited to 1GB of data per month. Alternatively, XCom Global gives you unlimited data in up to 40 countries in Europe for $14.95 per day. Conversely, though, Telecom Square can be cheaper as you go global. For $24.95 per day, you get unlimited data in 80 countries around the globe. That's not bad considering that XCom Global charges $395 per month for unlimited service in only four countries (out of a possible 175). So like I said, it all depends on how and where you travel.

The device
The actual hot-spot device I used is the ZTE MF60. Shaped like a smooth skipping stone, the device measures 3.93 inches long by 2.11 inches wide by 0.55 inch and weighs 2.65 ounces. On the front there's a small monochrome screen that shows the carrier names, signal strength, connection status, and battery life. A black plastic skin encloses the hot spot save for a thin silver ring around the middle. There you'll find the power control, a Micro-USB charger port, and a microSD card slot. The back cover removes easily to expose the 1,500mAh battery.

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