Friday, June 28, 2013

Staying connected in Fiji... Mobile internet set up.

For most of our travels the last 8 years we heavily relied on a high power WIFI system to connect to shore side WIFI hotspots. In Mexico we used Banda ancha (Broadband) 3G via a USB dongle and it was pretty cost effective. In French Polynesia it was back to WIFI and now in Fiji we again have the option to use mobile broadband 3G via a usb dongle or via a SIM card installed in a compatible 3G capable device. Since we have been cruising for so long and are getting pretty frugal we have fallen behind our USA peers in terms of gadgets. Our few indulgences as of late are a Google Nexus 10 tablet, but it's WIFI only and Motorola Droid X from a few years ago, but it's a Verizon phone and thus doesn't use a sim card. So, here were are in Fiji where we can get cheap fast 3G mobile broadband and we have exactly zero devices to utilize the service.

Luckily, Vodafone Fiji sells a pre-paid Flashnet 3G USB dongle that includes 1GB of data for $29FJD (about $15US). You can add 11GB of additional data for $100FJD and it's good for 60 days... lesser amounts are only good for 30 days or less. Now that we have internet access via our laptop PC with the Flashnet 3G dongle, the next question was how could we share the internet amongst ourselves and the other devices. I actually have a TP Link TL-MR3020 3g/4G router aboard just for this purpose, but the Vodafone 3G dongle was too new to be compatible and even the Vodafone people didn't have a compatible router. So one of the options is go with a software solution like Connectify that can turn your laptop into a wifi hotspot for other devices. Connectify works great and we purchased the $25 annual license while in Mexico for use with the Banda ancha, but while at the Vodafone shop in Savu Savu I was tempted by a super cheap 7" android tablet for $229FJD. The tablet running android 4.0 was also a fully functional phone and it could create a mobile hotspot. So, I dropped the cash despite knowing I'd get an earful from Kathy. Yes, I got a drubbing, but now we have a cheap tablet serving up the internet to our other devices. So far it's been incredibly handy and at the super cheap price I'm happy to take it anywhere without fear of wreaking a super expensive gadget. It's also a back up chart plotter running the Navionics App, google earth, Sailsafe anchor alarm, etc.

A few tricks for other travelers if you go the tablet route. The SIM chip that comes with the tablet is a Voice SIM that you can also use for Data. This is great, but the cost for the data is almost three times as much as for a flashnet SIM. So go ahead and buy the flashnet 3g dongle and then swap the chips. BUT, then the tablet won't work as a phone and you need the Vodafone guys to change the 'APN' a mobile networks setting within the tablet. For us this was a fine solution as I just took the chip that was in the tablet and popped that in an old quad band cell phone so we have a dedicated phone and the tablet is just to serve up internet to the other devices aboard including our PC laptops and other android devices like my Nexus tablet.

It's great to be connected while underway and so far we've been super impressed with the 3G coverage between islands.

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