WiFi anywhere, anytime - traveling internationally with Skyroam's Solis

Practical experiences with a 4G hotspot that got me online anywhere there was any cellular signal
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

Skyroam let me test their 4G LTE global Solis WiFi hotspot and power bank during an extended international multi-location trip this summer. I used the Solis in all sorts of places and situations, and I found it to be very useful. While we can WiFi 'hotspot' from our tethered smart phones while on home turf, once you get out and about internationally, the ability to get online diminishes while also getting a lot more complicated and expensive.

Skyroam claims unlimited mobile WiFi in 130+ countries - I didn't visit that many places this summer but I did test it first on the US east coast, both in urban and very remote settings, and then in several european countries with both single and multi users. I found that if there was a cellular signal wherever I was, I could get the Skyroam connected. The only place I couldn't get WiFi working was on Matinicus island, off Penobscot Bay, about 20 miles east of the Maine coast, where there is no cellular signal except at one location if you are lucky on a good day.

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Everywhere else the Skyroam performed well and as advertised, whether on the move in urban settings or in rural locations. Despite being advertised as a 'power bank' as well as a WiFi hotspot, serious road trips require lots of back up battery power. If you are going far off the grid for multiple days you'll need lots of stored power to keep your various devices and the Skyroam operational. The Skyroam's batteries lasted about 22 hours on fully charged (new) batteries. (Replacing the unit's two batteries is easy, so a solution might be traveling with a store of charged spares while away from power sources). Although I'd set up the unit before leaving my west coast home, I left the final steps to activate it until I was on the road. I was using Skyroam's fifteen dollar per twenty four hour period consumption model (more on just announced alternatives to this below).

To activate, Skyroam gives you twenty minutes of 'free' access through the Solis hotspot to get set up (or you can use other WiFi or your phone data) before clicking the button on the sky roam Solis web page to activate a 24 hour period and consume fifteen dollars. I had some minor issues and interacted with skyroam support via my mobile phone, typing on their support pages. There was a very quick response time (currently Skyroam support is covers English, Chinese, German, Korean or Filipino) which resolved my 'RTFM' issues and got me online without any further problems.

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After this initial setup, apart from keeping an eye on battery life and time left, the WiFi was stable enough to not really have to think about, which is particularly enjoyable if you are sitting working online with your laptop while looking out over the ocean far from civilization.In urban and business settings I found having the Skyroam running in my backpack meant I was able to run from meeting to meeting with my laptop and phone while always having reliable WiFi, and I also successfully used it during several high and slow speed train, coach and taxi/Uber journeys. As with mobile phone cellular signal, occasionally I'd hit dead spots but generally I was able to work without thinking about WiFi problems. The device was also useful at a conference event that only had very slow WiFi due to large numbers of users slowing down the event WiFi.

I spent several days in rural southern Sweden at a house with no internet and tested the unit with 5 simultaneous users (the maximum number of devices the Skyroam will serve to keep user bandwidth tolerable). The mobile signal in the area was reasonably strong and despite a couple of youtube bandwidth hogging kids, others were able to check email and be online, although service varied markedly from day to day requiring the kids to be kicked off occasionally for faster access. (Incidentally regarding kids, I recommend keeping the Skyroam in its protective carrying case - if you are camping, hiking or some other activity and somehow wind up dropping it, keeping it protected is a good idea. I managed to drop my unit on rocks while not in its carrying case, and it kept working, but better not to take chances...)

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During a 24 hour consumption period, I flew from Copenhagen to the UK and experienced seamless WiFi while the unit was turned on in each location. In response to some of my questions about how this cellular data service coverage works, Skyroam responded:

Skyroam works with mobile carriers around the world with the goal of providing our customers with a service that balances speed, coverage, reliability, and price. In many countries we partner with more than one carrier. This means that in some places within a country, Skyroam may deliver the services of one carrier, while in another place it could be a different carrier. We choose the best available local network from our network of nearly 300 top tier carriers worldwide.

I used the fifteen US dollar per 24 hour service period plan during my trip, which didn't appear to have any capping of bandwidth (although I wasn't streaming large amounts of data). There are other ways to buy bandwidth - and you can also rent the hardware unit for $9.95 a day if you only need occasional use. (Buying a unit for the hundred and fifty dollar retail price quickly makes a lot more sense over buying if you are using the Solis for any length of time).

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Skyroam have just launched a new 'goData' data delivery method today that offers 1GB of full speed data (useable anywhere) for nine dollars per month, after which you can buy more data if needed at a flat rate of $9 a gig. I can see this would be useful as a backup WiFi device for odd times when for whatever reason you need a bit of WiFi when other options aren't available. For international travelers who are always on the road, Skyroam does monthly unlimited plans 'for a flat price'.

I have to say I was quite impressed with how useful having a Solis with me was while lugging my bags around and moving from place to place. We've all fiddled with swapping sims in mobile phones as we move around the planet and buying drinks so we can get back online at coffee shops, but there is a lot to be said for being able to fire up your laptop anytime and anywhere with a mobile signal and immediately be online without really having to think about it, particularly when time is money.

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