International travel can be especially challenging when you don’t have internet access. These days, staying connected is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. You need it to get a ride through Uber, to check-in to your next flight, or even to checkout of your hotel.
Without it you’ll have to bring along an actual printed map to find your way around. This could be very hard when you’ve grown used to getting turn-by-turn directions on your phone.
No internet access means you’ll be disconnected from your friends and family who are all following your journey on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or waiting for private calls and messages on Viber.
In my travels abroad this past two years, I’ve tried several ways to stay connected.
The easiest way was to simply turn on roaming cellular data for the daily flat rate offered by Smart or Globe. But in my experience staying connected this way could be a bit iffy. Globe charges a flat daily rate of around PHP 599 for 24 hours while Smart charges PHP 550 from when you turn on data roaming until midnight of the same day. My problem with both services is that I do not always get an internet connection—that is dependent on the availability of the service by their partner on location.
The next solution I tried is to get a local SIM. I got a TIM SIM in Rome with a package that allowed me to stay connected even while I crossed the border to France for a few days. It worked pretty well and the rates were quite reasonable, even a bit cheaper than the flat rate from Globe or Smart, but the downside was that when I ran out of load, I had to go to one of their outlets to reload. The other downside was that I had to bring another phone for this purpose.
In Madrid, I rented a pocket Wi-Fi bundled with the car rental— this was a good way to stay connected and the charge in Spain was about EUR 8 per day, quite reasonable as my friends and I were able to share the cost since the mobile Wi-Fi could connect to up to 10 devices. Another time, our AirBnB rental in Rome had a pocket Wi-Fi included, so we just brought that along.
But in April this year, on a Philippine Airlines flight to New York, I saw Pokefi featured in the in-flight magazine. I was intrigued because it had a virtual SIM, which meant there would be no need to replace the SIM when moving from one location to another. Another thing that also caught my attention was that you could top-up the load online and pay by credit card. The best thing about it is that you could buy 5 GB of data for only USD 15, consumable within two years, or unlimited data for USD 15 consumable in five days—which meant it only costs USD 3/day at most—and this is a flat rate for all 60+ countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Middle East that the service was available.
I did not find a lot of reviews about Pokefi online, but I took the risk and bought one on my flight back to the Philippines. It was cheaper to buy the unit in-flight than online from the Pokefi website because it was tax free.
It was a breeze to setup: all I needed to do was to open the back, remove the battery protector, connect the battery, and turn it on. I waited for about a minute or so before the Wi-Fi indicator turned green, telling me that I had acquired a connection–since the package came with data pre-loaded.
Next, I opened settings on my phone and connected to Pokefi using the SSID and password indicated in the box (and also in the inside back cover of the unit). To personalize my Pokefi, I connected to the unit by going to http://a.pokefi on a browser from my phone, and changed the SSID and password. It also allowed me to purchase additional data packages.
This device was truly one of my best buys this year. Since April, I’ve reloaded four times, spending only USD 60 for data load which I used abroad for more than 20 days—and I still have 5 GB remaining data to date. I used it without any problems in the USA, the Netherlands, France, and Germany. So far, Bangladesh is the only country I went to this year where the Pokefi service was not available.
I should also mention that the device has a long battery life—up to 12 hours, depending on the signal strength and the number of devices it is connected to—this is way better than other mobile Wi-Fi’s available in the market.
If you travel or have plans to travel abroad, you have to add Pokefi to your wish list for Christmas.
Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE November 2017
Words and Photos by Pressy Alba