Travel has been on pause for most of us for many months – but countries are slowly opening up, and chances are many people will take advantage of new home working arrangements to take a long, well-deserved break. Some are even taking advantage of the new push for home working and turning themselves into digital nomads.
But if there’s one thing that remote working depends on it is internet access. Even if you’re on a real holiday you’ll still want good internet access to look up local attractions and dining options. Or to respond to an emergency at work.
Most of us will rely on Wi-Fi provided by our accommodation. After all, Wi-Fi is often the most reliable way to connect to the internet, and almost always the cheapest. Most short-stay apartments, hotels and other accommodation options will provide you with free Wi-Fi.
But is the Wi-Fi any good? And what about mobile broadband? It’s worth some thought – in this article we’ll guide you through your options and offer a few useful suggestions.
The alternative to Wi-Fi: mobile roaming
First, let’s look at the alternative to Wi-Fi: simply roaming on your existing mobile broadband plan. If you have unlimited or plenty of data on your plan, and no caps on roaming, you should be able to tether all of your devices to your mobile phone. That would be the case for many European mobile users, though policies will differ in other countries.
However, be careful about relying on mobile roaming because the reality can be somewhat different. First, you may not want the hassle of activating the hotspot on your phone to tether devices – handset’s hotspots automatically deactivate, and your phone battery rapidly drains when it acts as a hotspot. It is not exactly convenient.
Caps are also a problem. You may have an unlimited data plan, but your provider may still cap roaming. Again If you’re an EU citizen roaming in Europe this should, in theory, not be an issue – but mobile operators may apply a fair use policy that surprises you. Roam further afield and caps may be tight.
There’s another issue: determining the quality of mobile broadband in your holiday location. You could try and find out who the local roaming partner is – and then look up their 4G coverage map. You may find that your location offers just a 2G or 3G signal which is not good enough for most remote working scenarios. Basic network signals remain an issue in more rural locations. Besides indicated coverage is no guarantee: even with 4G, it all comes down to the way the operator manages its network and, of course, your physical location. Unless you are there to test it, you simply will not know.
Knowing that mobile broadband is an option can be a good backup plan, but we suggest you also get a firm opinion on the quality of the Wi-Fi at your accommodation.
Check the Wi-Fi before you book
Verifying the quality of the Wi-Fi before you book is essential, in our opinion. It matters less for a short stay of a day or two. For longer stays of a few weeks or a month or two checking Wi-Fi quality is absolutely essential. Good Wi-Fi keeps you connected and minimises roaming costs.
First and foremost – and as obvious as it may seem – do check that Wi-Fi is free at your accommodation of choice. It’s common for Wi-Fi to be freely available, but some properties can charge extortionate fees for Wi-Fi access, and that happens from budget hotels across to the most exclusive accommodation.
Charging can be “hidden” too: watch out for properties that charge for multiple devices, or that offer free “slow” Wi-Fi of 2Mbps or less – while charging for “premium” Wi-Fi or, in other words, the internet access that most of us would consider normal.
How fast is it really?
We’re all familiar with the overpromise. Accommodation providers promising an ocean view, when all you can really see is a dash of blue and only if you get on a chair and lean out of a window. Wi-Fi access is a lot like that, unfortunately. There is nothing preventing an accommodation provider with hundreds of units trying to squeeze the internet needs of all their visitors through a very narrow pipe.
You could ask a few questions. Some providers might be able to tell you what bandwidth they have dedicated against how many guests. If it’s a small property you could ask whether the provider has standard ADSL, or fibre. It’s also worth checking how widely spread access points are – you might find that you can’t get good Wi-Fi at the pool, for example.
However, it is tough finding a concrete answer to the Wi-Fi question. The best we can suggest is something a bit like due diligence. In other words, look at the reviews of your fellow travellers. Watch out for notes about bad internet access – or compliments around great internet access.
Also consider the quality of your accommodation: if you intend to work while on holiday you should consider premium accommodation options. After all, an international five-star hotel brand is unlikely to disappoint its guests with poor internet access, but a dirt-cheap independent hotel might not be as concerned.
Netradar and NomadStays
While our suggestions around mobile roaming and verifying Wi-Fi are a good starting point, a much better approach would be to get a verified report on Wi-Fi quality before you arrive at your destination. In Netradar's latest collaboration, NomadStays is offering visitors to the properties listed on NomadStays an official Wi-Fi rating for each property.
Using the Netradar SDK embedded in the NomadStays app, users record Wi-Fi quality – reporting it back to NomadStays which in turn grades every property with a Wi-Fi quality reading. That way future visitors that require solid internet access can better choose their accommodation. It also acts as an incentive for hosts to go beyond the minimum, delivering excellent Wi-Fi quality knowing that the Wi-Fi provided will be tested and rated.
Given how unreliable broadband can be and the difficulty of verifying Wi-Fi quality at a destination we think that a consistent, reliable rating system driven by Netradar’s app-based metrics can help visitors make better choices – while accommodation providers can get proof of solid Wi-Fi services that attract today’s digital nomads and remote workers.
Pre-holiday preparation is key
For some of us this summer is offering a unique holiday opportunity, with an extended holiday thanks to remote working. It might even be the gateway to the digital nomad lifestyle. But preparation is key: the last thing you want is to experience problems accessing technology essential to your work.
So, verify your mobile broadband options as a backup, but more importantly – re-assure yourself that the Wi-Fi options at your destination is good enough to do the job.
Finally, accommodation platforms may want to think of a way to provide visitors with concrete information about Wi-Fi – using Netradar’s unique network monitoring technology to add real-life measurements to each and every property.