MiFi rental service
- Dead simple order process
- Great worldwide coverage
- MiFi or USB stick options
- Pricey for long-term travel
- Requires multiple MiFis for multiple nations
- Not every country supported just yet
So, who exactly is Xcom Global? A smaller company solving an obvious problem for US-based travelers -- how to get unlimited data whilst traveling internationally with as little fuss as possible. It offers a couple of primary options; you can rent a USB WWAN device for a given country for $14.95 per day, or you can rent a MiFi for a given country for $17.95 per day (barring any specials). And if you're coming to America, you can rent a US dongle from these guys too. Being the connected junkies that we are, we honestly didn't think twice about it -- it was MiFi or bust for us, and we'd recommend you do likewise. If you're unclear on how a MiFi works, it's essentially a pebble that's around the size of a credit card, but a bit less than a centimeter thick. Perfect for toting around in your pocket. You slap a SIM card in, toss the rechargeable battery in, and press the Power button -- within a few seconds, it'll be connected to a local mobile network and serving up mobile data via WiFi. Alternatively, you can read this.
Xcom Global's order process is dead simple. Plug in the nation you'll be traveling to, the date of your departure and the date of your return. If you're traveling to multiple countries (Eurotrip, anyone?), you can enter all of that information as well. You'll get a package in the mail a few days prior to your departure, which will have a swank padded carrying case, charging equipment, a spare battery (nice touch!) and a MiFi designed to operate in the country you're traveling to. Xcom has it nicely arranged; the MiFi ships with a country label on it, and the SIM for that country is already installed and ready to rock. As soon as you land, you can pull it out, power it on, and start enjoying the spoils of low-cost international data. We'd recommend connecting it to a Mac or PC first in order to establish a network security password, but if you feel like broadcasting bandwidth to four others (the MiFi supports five total WiFi connections), we won't be hurrying to stop you.
The best part about having a MiFi versus a USB WWAN card is that the former can broadcast to your mobile while riding around in your pocket or backpack. Having data access on your GPS-enabled phone means that you can tap into Google Maps (or your favorite mapping service) while roaming about in a foreign land. In other words, it's your own fault if you get lost. If you choose the USB WWAN stick, you'll lose this tremendous benefit.
We recently tested Xcom's service by ordering up a trio of MiFi units a week prior to our departure. We were headed to The Netherlands, Germany and France, and we didn't want to be disconnected for a second if we could help it. We'd never ventured far in these lands before, so having our Nexus One on-hand with a live data connection was critical to us finding our way from station to station, eatery to hotel, and so on. Our package arrived safe and sound two days before we left the confines of the USA, and as soon as we touched down in Amsterdam, we mashed the power button of the NL MiFi and crossed our fingers. 30 seconds later it had a pulse, and our Nexus One was connected to the world wide web without fear that we were running up a monumental roaming bill. Our setup consisted of having a huge HyperMac in our backpack, so we simply ran a USB cable from said HyperMac to our MiFi in order to keep the data flowing all day long.
We recall having to reboot the MiFi just a handful of times throughout the trip -- that's more than acceptable given the general unreliability of 3G networks these days -- and we found it fairly clear that Orange's network in France was the wonkiest of the ones we encountered. For hours on end, the MiFi kept humming, providing our Nexus One with the data it needed to give us a Street View look at where we were headed. It also provided a speedy, reliable connection for our laptop as we covered Photokina from the show floor, and in a few cases, we found the 3G networks in Europe to be faster than our hotel internet. A few weeks prior, we had the same positive experience when renting a few for IFA coverage in Berlin.
The bottom line? Xcom Global solves a problem that's been irking travelers for years now, and the service we received makes it hard to not recommend. You'll be hard pressed to find unlimited data this cheap, and being able to use your own currency to purchase it (not to mention procure one and work out the details in your own language before leaving) is a huge boon. Now, stop procrastinating and plan your next trip!