I'm frequently asked this question by travelers,
particularly those venturing into new territory or off the beaten path.
And it's a good question -- with the proliferation of RJ-11 jacks and upgraded
telecommunications systems in a good portion of the world, many times the real challenge is
no longer how to hook up your modem. It's how to access the Internet (or your
company network) once you are hooked up. What might be the best way for
you depends on your needs and your budget. Let's look at some of the
Your Present ISP
Unless you use one of the Global ISPs discussed
below, making an international call to your present ISP could be an expensive
proposition. It can be done, and I've been in situations where I really
didn't have much choice. Besides the obvious expense (which can be quite
high when hotel tariffs are added to international calling rates), you shouldn't expect an optimum data
connection when dialing in to a server thousands of miles away.
Direct Software. If you must
call your home ISP, the best you might hope for is to avoid expensive
international calling tariffs. If you have an AT&T Calling Card, you
can use AT&T's special software to call the US through the local access
number in the country you're visiting. The software is available for
Global ISPs are much like regular ISPs, with the
exception that they have POPs, or Points Of Presence (local access numbers) that can be used around the
world. Sometimes their overseas locations, or "nodes," are
operated as an integral part of their operations just as it is in their home
country. In many cases, however, they use cooperative agreements with
other local networks, just like those used by global roaming services discussed
in the following section. Network surcharges based on time used are
usually applied in addition to the regular service fee. These can vary
from place to place and sometimes can be rather steep. It would be a good
idea to research the types of fees you will be charged in a specific destination
to avoid unpleasant surprises afterwards.
One of the all-time best global ISP services was
IBM.net, while it lasted. When I first joined, IBM offered unlimited
connection time with no network surcharges when overseas. I suppose all
good things like this must end, and so it did. First, IBM did away with
unlimited service, introducing a charge when used more than a certain number of
hours per month. Soon afterwards, they began charging extra for connecting
outside of the subscriber's home country. Eventually, IBM.net was acquired
and rolled into what is now AT&T (see below).
(America OnLine). Many Internet old-timers still grimace at
the mention of AOL, remembering the onslaught of newbies unleashed when the
company first offered Internet access. Like it or not, AOL is now the
world's largest online service and a media superpower in its own right.
AOL appeals most to families and individuals who don't want to spend a lot of
time fussing with things like POP3 settings and logon scripts -- AOL's
proprietary software makes this unnecessary. Though they first offered
international access many years ago, their global presence increased greatly
when they acquired CompuServe a few years back. If you're already an AOL
user, they should probably be your first choice when traveling overseas, though
there are some places their network doesn't cover.
CompuServe. Yes, it's owned by AOL,
yet still maintained as a separate information service. I've been using it
since 1984 -- long before AOL became involved. CompuServe was known
as one of the most technically proficient online services long before most of its
users understood how important that could be. As a long-time user,
I subscribe to the classic service, which allows good access to POP3
e-mail. It's my understand that CompuServe 2000 uses IMAP e-mail.
Either way, you should be able to access the Internet and any POP3 account by
using CompuServe's Dial-Up Networking (DUN) capability for Windows.
CompuServe is also very business-friendly, allowing companies to establish group
accounts with central billing. There are issues with CompuServe Classic
with Windows 2000 and Windows XP. For both, you need to install the NT
version of CompuServe's Classic software. For Windows 2000, you need to
manually configure the DUN connection. For XP, if you plan to be making
dial-up connections, the CompuServe Connection Manager for Windows XP will be
helpful. You can download everything you need from www.safisoft.com.
UUNET, a WorldCom company, is a global ISP with more than 2500 POPs on five
continents. They are strongly represented in Europe, North America
(particularly the US, but also the larger Canadian cities), Southeast Asia and
Australia, though they lack service to much of Latin America and all of China,
Russia, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and the African
Continent. As with all global ISPs, access to POPs outside one's home area
may be subject to additional network connection charges.
Business Internet Services offers local numbers in more than 50
countries. The service has good coverage in North America and most of
Europe and Southeast Asia. It currently lacks numbers in some Latin
America countries, far Eastern Europe, China, and much of Africa and the Middle
East. As with all global ISPs, new numbers are regularly added (and
Earthlink offers widespread coverage in North America, Europe, Australia and New
Zealand, and portions of Southeast Asia. They offer a variety of services,
including broadband, dial-up and wireless access.
Global Internet Roaming Services
Global roaming services differ from global ISPs
in that, for the most part, these aren't ISPs so much as they are companies that
have cooperative agreements/partnerships with numerous ISPs around the
world. The services and rate plans offered by each can vary greatly.
Some require a regular subscription, with additional usage fees. Some
charge only when the service is actually used. Some may offer ISP-like
features such as e-mail and web space, while others may not.
If you travel and use the Internet, you can use this service provides access to
the Internet and
e-mail through over 11,000 ISPs around the world in over 150 countries. Access
is made through a local call. Net-roamer has also launched a companion service for Palm and
Windows Pocket PC devices (PDAs)
NetAway is a relative newcomer to the global access field. Based in
the UK, NetAway offers Internet roaming service with more than 18,000 local
access numbers in more than 100 countries. It works on a pre-paid basis,
meaning there are no recurring or monthly service charges. Access is
available from PCs, Macs, PDAs, and mobile phones (data compatible SIM card
prepaid service, allowing subscribers to access all MaGlobe worldwide locations
with a single Username and Password. This
account can be accessed regardless of who you use for your ISP. Coverage
is strong in Australia, US, Europe, the Middle East, and India (sometimes a
difficult place for roaming).
The most interesting aspect of this service is the ability to accommodate dial-up, ISDN, PHS, 802.11b, DSL
and cable remote connections within one easy-to-use application. I use
iPass, as it sometimes has local nodes in places CompuServe does not (China and Margarita Island,
Venezuela are examples). It may
pay to shop amongst iPass providers, as some charge a monthly subscription fee
whilst others charge for usage only.
International. An iPass affiliate that charges for usage
only, no monthly subscription fee.
GRIC stands for Global Reach Internet Connection™. I believe
that, like iPass, GRIC requires an account with one of their ISP partners in
order to use the roaming services.
A growing number of hotels (particularly among the larger chains) offer
their own in-room Internet connections. Sometimes this can be a real
life-saver -- while in Bahrain in October 2002, there was no CompuServe or iPass
access, and slow connection speeds kept me from maintaining a MaGlobe
Fortunately, the Holiday Inn Bahrain had its own easy-to-use dialup ISP connection, which
worked great (ditto for the Crowne Plaza in Abu Dhabi). In some hotels, ISP access is not just through dial-up, but
sometimes ISDN and increasingly through broadband services such as those offered by Ardent
Systems and Wayport in the US and others around the world. These systems
usually require a network card or built-in connection for your laptop. A potential downside of using
someone else's ISP is that while you may be able to retrieve e-mail, you might
not be able to send it. This is because many ISPs, in an effort to block
spam, do not allow those who aren't regular subscribers to use their outgoing
mail servers. And watch out -- like mini-bar charges and sometimes
even local phone calls, using the hotel's ISP can be surprisingly costly.
you're going to going to be on a extended assignment or stay of a couple of
months or more, it might be economical to obtain a local Internet Service
Provider at your destination. The List
is a very informative site with details on ISPs around the globe.
Free ISPs. In
portions of Europe (especially the UK), North America and elsewhere, certain
areas are served by a variety of free Internet Service Providers. Most are
supported by advertising, and some post restrictions on usage time.
However, the price is hard to beat, and they might be good for short-term use or
in a pinch. One site that lists a number of free ISPs around the world is
Another is this list of Free
Internet Access Providers.
(Caution: when I checked out some free providers listed for the US, one was no
longer in service, and the other offered a porno ad.)
It's likely there's no one perfect solution to
the global connection issue unless your travels are rather straightforward and
take you only to larger cities in Western Europe, the Americas, Asia or
Australia. If your travels
frequently take you to smaller or more remote areas, particularly in regions
like India, Russia or China, you might need to look into a more specialized
service. Perhaps a combination of the services available will suit you
best, as it does me.