Mobile Internet Survival Guide: 10 Tips to Stay Connected Anywhere

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Picture this: You're sitting down in between meetings on a business trip, and you need to send a few quick e-mail messages and an image or two. You pull out your handy-dandy USB 3G Internet dongle, but no luck. Undaunted, you start looking around for an open Wi-Fi network, but no dice. Even your smartphone Internet is mysteriously down. Is this a nightmare? Nope--just another day for a business traveler lost in the wilds of mobile Internet.

Don't let this happen to you. Check out our 10 road-tested tips for getting your work done by any Internet connection necessary.

Don't rely on one network for mobile Internet access:

HTC EVO 4G smartphone
You're so prepared for the road that you're packing a new EVO 4G with Wi-Fi tethering features and a 4G Overdrive hotspot--just so you can sneer at the proles hunting for open Wi-Fi spots. Too bad both your devices will fall short during your business trip to South Dakota, which Sprint doesn't cover well at all. If you absolutely must have always-available Internet access, don't limit yourself to one cellular network. Check the coverage maps (such as Sprint's coverage map) and pick a pair of devices from different carriers to maximize your odds of getting a good connection.

Slow mobile broadband? Try switching spots--even if you're getting a great signal:
Getting five bars on your mobile-broadband signal doesn't necessarily mean that you'll get the best data speeds, especially if you're in an area with lots of cellular-network traffic. Although the signal-strength indicator does tell you how strong your connection is to the nearest signal tower, it doesn't tell you how busy that tower is.

Just because you have full reception doesn't mean you'll get great speeds.
Just because you have full reception doesn't mean you'll get great speeds.

That means that you (and everyone else in the area) could have a splendid connection to a tower that is so overloaded it can't send data along the network fast enough. Oddly, sometimes your signal strength will be worse, but your overall speeds will be better since you're connecting to a tower that's less busy overall.

Bring your own gear for hotel-room Wi-Fi:

Hotels love to advertise their free in-room Wi-Fi. However, the mere existence of Wi-Fi doesn't guarantee that it will work at the level you need it to. If you want to ensure that your room is covered, you'll need to bring your own Wi-Fi router and insist on a room at a hotel that is wired for ethernet. Don't forget the power strip, too, or else you might have to choose between wireless Internet access and your room's lighting.

If you're leery about lugging all of that gear around, remember this: Your room's ethernet could be a 1-foot-long cable sticking out of the landline phone. You might be able to get your work done with your laptop on your bedside table, but your back will never forgive you.

Test your speed before uploading large files:

MediaFire reports your upload speed in the upload manager.
If you need to send a few large files back to home base, try out a few different services before starting the upload in earnest. After all, your mobile ISP or hotel IT administrator might have blocked or throttled certain services. Another concern: What seems like the most direct file-transfer method (uploading to your company's FTP server, for example) might actually be bogged down with unnecessary intermediaries such as a VPN connection that could reduce the overall speed.

Dropbox tells you your upload speed when you right-click the icon in the Notification Area.
While uploading a video file from a hotel ethernet connection, I found that I got only 20 kilobits per second from our FTP server, while Dropbox bumped me up to 50 kbps and MediaFire managed 80 kbps. Even though I wasn't directly transferring the video to the home office, using MediaFire instead of our in-house FTP saved time for everyone involved.

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