Web Informant #183, 9 January 2000:
Getting Internet access when you travel


The world is getting smaller and more of us are traveling internationally these days. But getting your daily email fix isn't always easy, as this report from Gideon Greenspan, part student, part traveler, part shareware author, part programming consultant (gdg@sigsoftware.com) describes:

Towards the end of 1999, I took two months out from my life in London to do some independent traveling in the Far East, visiting Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. However, since I run a software company over the Internet, I took a laptop computer and needed to arrange Internet access in the countries I was visiting.

The first option I looked at was three major ISPs with POPs (points of presence) worldwide - AOL, Compuserve and IBM Global Services. However, I learned that each charge significantly extra for roaming - AOL and CompuServe for using any POP outside one's home country and IBM for roaming outside one's home zone (e.g. Northern America or Europe). And none of the services had an adequate range of POPs listed in the countries I was visiting.

Next, I looked for ISPs local to those countries by doing a search on Yahoo. Unfortunately, I couldn't read the language on the major Thai ISP's web site, so I quickly gave up. I also had no idea of how reliable the people I would be dealing with might be.

The last possibility was using one of two global ISP alliances: iPass.com and Gric.com. Each of these allows customers of their member ISPs to use the POPs of other member ISPs for dial-in access. I chose Gric over iPass since it listed a greater range of POPs in the countries I was visiting; for example, it provided local access in over 50 towns in Thailand.

Most ISP members of Gric were charging fairly high hourly rates for roaming, but after searching through the list of British Gric members, I signed up with Atlas Internet who only charge around $20/month, flat-rate. I downloaded and tested the Gric dialing software first - on my Apple PowerBook G3 it ran reliably although, being written in Java, it was quite slow.

I learnt a lot from my trip. Firstly, everywhere I went there were Internet Cafes and with a little persuasion I was usually able to connect my laptop to their Ethernet networks, configuring my TCP/IP accordingly. Speeds were often slow since some places had 20 computers connected via one 56k modem connection, but prices were cheap, sometimes under $0.50/hr.

Secondly, I had varying amounts of success with Gric. In Singapore and Malaysia, the local ISP occasionally refused my login for a day or so, but otherwise things ran fairly smoothly. However, in Thailand, CS Internet consistently refused my login. According to their technical support, they were experiencing "temporary technical problems" and were not accepting any Gric logins. My experience shows that, before setting out, you should test some of the POPs in the countries you are visiting by dialing from home.

A final important issue affects the sending of email. Since you will almost definitely not be able to initiate SMTP sessions with your home ISP (due to spam concerns), you will need to find another SMTP relay on the Internet which you can use. No solution is perfect - iPass's relay requires a tiresome web login before accepting mail from your IP address and Gric's online listings point you to the SMTP server of the local POP, meaning you must reconfigure your email client whenever you change location.

Self-promotions dep't

John Rhodes has posted a wide-ranging interview he conducted with me about broadband, the future of the Internet and other topics.

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David Strom
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