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Staying connected while on the road - GPRS - DSL - WIFI - Satellite - Dialup internet service
Saturday, 26 May 2007
For most overland travellers the Internet is not an unknown facility. In fact most use it for staying in touch, get info or update travel websites. On long overland journeys it’s not always that easy to have all that on the whole journey. Besides that there is so much other stuff during the journey taking loads of time already. Finding reasonable fast and stable internet can be a pain, specially when you need it for publishing pictures have a Skype phone call or just look for info like visa’s. And when you find it, you’ll find yourself in a hot dusty room packed with people using the inevitable virus infected Windows PC’s to do their stuff. And for those with laptops? Well who’s been there probably knows what coming. The chaotic process of getting it connected with everyone looking at you and your laptop. This while trying to sit in a space where there’s hardly any space left for a laptop, a laptop bag and you trying to fiddle with it. Welcome to the Internet – now surf away!

Getting connected to the Internet

In all our travelling we found basically 5 ways of getting a laptop connected to the Internet : DSL, Dialup, WiFi, GPRS and Satellite phone. Our popular modes of connection are DSL and GPRS. The rest is either too slow, too expensive or simply not available.

Most Internet Café’s have either DSL or Dialup Internet access – you just plug-in a normal UTP network cable into your laptop and off you go. However some have to fiddle with a static IP address to get you connected to their equipment. Only a few internet café’s have pickup up the need for working space and created a working area for people with a laptop.

In some cases we’ve found WiFi Internet access – which is to our experience a rare thing.  If it doesn’t work, it usually ends there – we’ve seen hardly anyone in internet café’s who seem to fully master this short range wireless network technology. Where it did work it was reasonably fast and in most cases protected by some payment gateway. We found it on Superfast Ferries, in the bigger Greek cities, most Turkish airports and the Serena Hotel in Islamabad.

WIFI in Turkey

Turkey has a nationwide WiFi Internet service run by TTWINET. We found  WiFi AP's in several bigger cities in shopping malls, McDonnalds and Airports. Not all of them worked and calling the helpdesk is futile - you'll end up in a greater state of confusion and it won't get the AP working. Getting the prepaid scratchcards is another pain - so using a Creditcard to gain access to the Internet is the only practical way. To start of in Turkey you need the AP list from the TTWINET website first - finding the listes addresses is another, specially if driving around with a big truck. Basically we found ourselves using Internet Cafe's which in all where pretty good. Cities with universities have the larger internet cafe's.

Read about an affordable alternative to WIFI in Turkey :: GPRS/EDGE internet access through Turkcell.

DSL Internet in Iran

In Iran we used Internet Cafe's a lot.They usually run a DSL service with resonable speed. Access to the Internet is filtered so not every website will work and that can change from day to day. This can result in not being able to see your own website or being locked out of webmail. In any case secure POP access to GMAIL seemed to work. (more below)

Read about connecting to the Internet in Iran through MTN Irancell GPRS/EDGE.

GPRS / EDGE outside Europe

Till Pakistan we found the use of GPRS (internet through your cell phone) horrendously expensive. Try using it and you’ll be charged far beyond comprehension after a month. That’ll learn you not to use it the hard way. And besides that how can anyone have reasonable control over the amount of bytes rolling in? Basically this is the case for all Europe and Turkey. Iran now has a basic roaming agreement with Vodafone (maybe others too) since the beginning of 2006 (GPRS excluded). However the prepaid service of MTN Irancell has GPRS/EDGE and connects you to the (filtered) Internet.  In Pakistan we found the first GPRS service (Ufone) which has a reasonable performance and not too expensive. Read about how to get GPRS settings for UFONE and GRPS settings for Mobilink in Pakistan.

GPRS / EDGE in India

In India GPRS got outrageously cheap using Airtel pre-pay. For about 20 rupees per day we had 24 hr access even in cross-state roaming mode. Average connection speed was about 5Kb/sec with random peaks and drops when the GSM access point got too crowded by normal voice calls. The best thing is, you have access without having to go outside. In India that’s a great thing, cause there are so much people allover the place. Moverover you don’t have to roam the area and sit in cramped, hot and crowded spaces. The speed isn’t high but for mail and basic surfing its enough and all that 24 hr/day. The latter hugely compensates the lower speed.

GPRS / EDGE in Nepal

Nepal has a similar GPRS deal as India through Mero Mobile pre-pay. They charge a fixed rate upto 75 Mb and from there it’s free. Basically that means 1600 rupees / month for 24 hr GPRS internet access. That’s about 31 Indian rupees per day. Basically you can get 3 connection hours / day for that in an Internet Café in Kathmandu or Pokhara.

The basics of GPRS

For those unfamiliar with GPRS – it can be a real pain to get it working. Basically you need to install the modem inside your cell phone on your laptop through either a RS232 wire, Bluetooth or Infrared. This usually comes from a CD or website of the mobile phone manufacturer. From there you need the APN and sometimes a user and password. To test it, it’s best to use the WAP facility on the mobile phone itself.
Read more about GPRS settings here. When this works, the next step is to get the working internet connection on your PC. Like Mero Mobile in Nepal you need an extra modem initialisation command. This command is listed here:

Security and mobile internet connections

With all that internet roaming using a laptop there’s one major concern, which is password and data security. While using POP and HTTP services to get mail and info through websites on your laptop, without additional measures all info can be easily monitored. Even on GPRS connections.

Most webmail services nowadays have secure HTTPS access, however there are still many other sites which don’t have it – or at least have the insecure version available. For POP mail access it’s a whole different ball game. Most providers still have their POP mail servers unsecure making it very easy to catch the access codes in Internet café’s. For those with a laptop it’s a (calculated) risk to use unsecure POP access.

GMAIL from Google has free secure POP access. It’s easy to forward mail from an existing unsecure POP mail account to GMAIL. From there it’s safe to access mail through the secure POP Gmail server. It takes a while to have it working but it’s surely worth the hassle.

Updating websites while on the road

For those with websites – well that’s a real pain getting it updated securely. Most hosting packages don’t have a secure FTP server (SSL encrypted) so getting access means exposing your access codes. However there’s a way to limit the damage. If your hosting package allows you to make additional FTP accounts it’s probably the best to create one just for website updates. Just create it right before use and delete the FTP account right after use. Given that you can access your hosting control panel through a secure HTTPS line. In case the ftp access codes gets nicked during your update, it’ll just be a temporary catch. After it the FTP account is deleted, access is gone. For those who have secure SSL ftp access – well good for you – it’ll make your website updates more secure.

The worst internet connection

The worst internet connection so far we found in an internet shack in Bahawalpur – Pakistan. Cramped space, totally crowded, hot and dusty, slow speed, unreliable power and everyone talking to you. The latter is by far the worst – how can you do anything when you’re constantly interrupted by someone new asking a question? It is a funny sight though – one man + laptop surrounded by a crowd in a tiny room. “Where you come from sir ?”   

The best internet connection

The very best internet connection was by far is the one at the Serena Hotel in Islamabad - Pakistan. They have fast wired and open wireless internet access. You get to use an office with a big desk and a printer in a quiet surrounding with free international newspapers. It’ll set you back about €5,- / hour but that’s nothing compared to trying to rent a good equipped quiet office anywhere. In case you really need to get some work done this is the place. And they are open 24 hr / day at your service – wow.

Travelling with USB keys

Oh yes, don’t forget to update your virus scanner / network shield before getting your laptop connected in an internet cafe! Go figure. And think again when you insert your USB stick in your laptop still steaming hot from the internet café or picture print shop. You probably need bio level 4 protection from your Ebola infected USB stick.

Maybe try this :

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