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Everything you need to know about connecting abroad

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With the December holidays only a few weeks away, many executives, business owners and entrepreneurs will be planning to take their work away with them. Few people can afford to completely disconnect from the office, particularly at a time when businesses of all sizes and across sectors are under pressure. For those travelling abroad, however, staying connected can quickly become a costly – and often complex – exercise. Some travellers opt for local SIM cards, others rely on public and hotel WiFi, and most are unaware of the security and cost implications of each option. So what is the best approach?
Craig Lowe, founder of execMobile, which provides products and solutions for mobile connectivity, answers some common (and important) questions around staying connected abroad …

Can’t I just rely on hotel WiFi?
Preferably not…we don’t view this as a smart strategy. Most people believe that hotel Wi-Fi is more secure than public Wi-Fi, but this is simply not the case. Both options put you at similar risk. The recent “Dark room” revelations from Kaspersky Lab revealed that hotel WiFi hacking has been rife for the past four years, and is highly sophisticated and organised! This makes sense, if you think about it – where better to gain access to high-level company executives than in an expensive hotel?

Isn’t good public WiFi something you can expect nowadays?
No, sadly not! Over 80% of travellers expect WiFi when they travel, with 75% actively searching for it prior to travel. But reports have shown that 82% of users are disappointed by the quality, speed or availability of public WiFi when using it. More astoundingly, 79% do not trust public Wi-Fi security, whether paid or free…and probably for good reason, yet they continue to rely on this option.

What is the cheapest way to stay connected abroad?
In our view, the cheapest route to mobile connectivity is to ensure you have enabled SMS-only roaming prior to leaving South Africa – and then buy a local SIM card and insert this into a wireless router. It must be noted, however, that this option does require the user to be technically savvy to sezt the APN settings of the router (assuming it is not network locked) and also to ensure the router is compatible with the destination network frequencies (for example, US 3G uses 1700MH or 1900MHz frequency, which many low cost SA wireless routers do not support).

Do companies have specific rules or policies for people working from abroad?
Interestingly, less than 3% of our corporate customers have a policy that governs connectivity abroad. The approach is generally, “Go out and do your best. Good luck out there”. Many companies are very reluctant to consider options that increase cost (assuming there is free Wi-Fi available) in these times of ongoing cost reduction…even though the risk of a massive roaming bill or security breach is very real. We believe companies should be taking the matter more seriously. Indeed, with POPI and the threat of R10-million fines or director jail time, CIOs need to consider this lack of regulation very carefully.

How expensive is it to use voice services when abroad?
Roaming call costs are high. A better option would be to use some of the voice over data solutions like WhatsApp voice, Skype, Viber etc. all of which use about half a Mb of data per minute, assuming you are using a low cost data connection like Wi-Fi. Video calling services (FaceTime, Skype, Lync, etc) options use between 2Mb and 4Mb of data per minute. Bear in mind that mobile roaming data costs average R128/Mb, so a call could end up costing you R64/minuteĀ  – and video call an extortionate R384/minute! It would actually be cheaper to phone at R23/minute (roaming call rate). The voice over data solutions are very handy but you need to ensure these services are used over a decent quality internet connection.