5 ways to connect to the internet while on holiday abroad

Posted on Friday, October 30, 2009 by Erlik

As I mentioned in an earlier post I recently went on holiday abroad to the small Greek island of Kos. Since beside being a blogger I am also a stock investor I pretty much require to occasionally connect to the internet to check my emails and stocks. Even on a small foreign island there are several internet connection options, but some are more impractical or expensive than others. Here is a review of the possibilities you will be presented with when trying to connect to the internet from abroad.

Wifi connection in the hotel room

Some foreign hotels now offer the option of a wifi connection in your own room against some "per day" payment. This is the easiest option if you have a laptop or netbook: you can surf the internet in the privacy of your own room and on your own computer. additionally you do not have to move your computer, which can be significant advantage if you have a traditional 15 or 17 inch laptop instead of a netbook. The downside is that unless your hotel also has a conference center or is very modern that option is unlikely to be available.

Internet cafe in the hotel lobby

Most hotels that do not have wifi available do have a few computers in the lobby (or in a small room on the side) that you can rent. There are several disadvantages to this mode of internet connection: first it is usually expensive (in my case more than $5 an hour), then the computers don't look very well maintained, so the risk of viruses keyloggers is high, the browser software may be in a foreign language and finally privacy is not very good if the computers are in the hotel lobby.

Independent internet cafe

In a touristic place where internet connections in the hotels are not common you are likely to find independent internet cafes around the hotels. These have two major advantages over computers found in the hotel lobby: the price (less than $3 an hour in my case) and the state of the computer. Even abroad most internet cafe owners are somewhat knowledgeable and will keep their machines free of viruses and other nastiness. Privacy and foreign language software can still be problems though.

Bar with a free Wifi connection

These will require you to look around a bit, but some bars do offer access to a free Wifi connection to their customers. If you have a netbook or iPhone this is a great solution as this is essentially free (as long as you were going to purchase a drink anyway) and since you use your own equipment the risk of keyloggers is non-existent. The only problem is that it can get clumsy if you have a full size notebook rather than a netbook, as the tables are sometimes quite small.

Using your 3G connection abroad

Most foreign countries now have some 3G network that can support a mobile data connection and most operators will offer mobile data roaming when they customers are on holiday abroad. This is however a very bad solution because of one main factor: cost! In Kos for example the data roaming cost for me is $4 per MEGAbyte. This means that anything beside checking subject lines in you webmail or the overview of your stock portfolio can quickly become VERY expensive, so this connection method has to be kept for emergencies only!

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Android begins to gain wider acceptance

Posted on Tuesday, October 20, 2009 by Erlik

There are many Linux based mobile platforms available today: Maemo, Openmoko and Android. Of these, it is probably Android that has created the most noise in and out of open sources circles. Until now however there have not been many successful devices running Google's mobile OS, and the ones that exist didn't present much of a challenge to the iPhone. Things are starting to change however.

HTC: finally some decent hardware.

The first manufacturer to release an Android powered smartphone was HTC with the Dream G1 (pictured up left, picture cc by pandemia). This was far from being a success: the operating system felt unfinished and the hardware was clunky. The lack of a virtual keyboard and an headphone jack were inadmissible sins on something supposed to go head-to-head with the iPhone. Google and HTC quickly learned from their mistakes and released Android 1.5 with virtual keyboard support and the new HTC Hero with a standard 3.5 headphone jack (pictured right, picture cc by laihiu). This better model was followed by the HTC Magic, a slightly cheaper version without the headphone jack. HTC's offer is now completed by the HTC Tatoo, a cheaper model with Android 1.6 and an headphone jack, but with a lower resolution screen. This allow HTC to cover the full gamut of smartphones: an expensive all-rounder, an affordable surfing machine and a cheaper, music oriented phone.

The carriers are interested

Up until now carrier enthusiasm for Android was tepid at best. It looks like this changed yesterday when Verizon declared war on the iPhone in a commercial aired during the NFL football games. To my knowledge this is the first time that I see a wireless carrier make such a push for an open smartphone platform. It is true that there have been massive campaigns for closed platforms like the iPhone, but never for Linux based systems. I am pretty sure that the people in Redmond and Cuppertino are not happy right now!

Other manufacturers are joining HTC

If currently all Android phones are made by HTC, this is quickly changing. Motorola, one of the biggest global cellphone manufactures is fully commited to Android and is preparing to launch 2 models this year. The first one, the Cliq should be available soon. The second model, codenamed "shole" is more of a prototype, but could still be released this year. Motorola actually dumped its own 'in house' Linux based OS to join the Android cause. This is important because Motorola has a lot of experience with mass market phones and already released very successful models like the Razr. We should also soon see devices that are Android powered but are not phones, like the future "dual booting" Acer netbook.


With only 3 million devices sold and much critiscism over its app store, Google's Android platform failed to make a major splash this year. I think that this was because Android was a new untested and immature system. This year however the OS has matured tremendously, more devices have been released at attractive price points and carriers are finally getting on board. If 2008 was the year of the iPhone, 2010 will be the year of the Android.

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Why the international Kindle is an achievement.

Posted on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 by Erlik

Amazon announced earlier this week that the Kindle would finally be available for international orders, and with Wispernet included. That's right, for $279 you can now purchase a Kindle for use outside of the US. Non US readers like me are probably inclined to say: not too soon! When looked at in more details however, the challenges Amazon must have faced to bring the Kindle to the international market must have been huge.

International licensing right: a nightmare.

Remember when Amazon had to pull 1984 from the Kindles of everyone that purchased the book? That was because whoever sold them the rights to publish the book on the Kindle didn't have them in the first place. This shows how difficult it is for a company to manage copyrights when you have to "publish" a book to a new format like the Kindle. Now when you go to the international market these problems are multiplied: not only is there the possibility that the rights to a single book are owned by different publishers in different countries, but the copyright "rules" may also be different. That means that for each single book Amazon may have had to sign several contract with different publishers and on different terms.

Dealing with mobile providers

Filling the Kindle virtual library with books is only half of the problem, the other half is delivering them. This means that Amazon needs to have a "roaming" contract with a sufficient number of international network providers to make the whispernet financially viable. Don't forget that in some countries mobile bandwidth is much more expensive than in the US. negotiating something like whispernet in places where mobile bandwidth is billed above $1 per megabyte must have been a real challenge! To be honest, some "network heavy" features like the blogs will not be available to international users, and I suspect it is for that reason: the mobile bandwidth cost would make this too expensive in some countries.

Still, when looking at all the challenges that Amazon had to overcome to bring the Kindle to the international market you have to admire them for pulling it off.

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European OS market share: the rise of OSX

Posted on Thursday, October 8, 2009 by Erlik

Most of you are probably aware of the huge market share gains made by Apple's OSX operating system in the US. Currently Apple practically owns the high end (above $1000) laptop market, and it's US market share is well above 10%. One problem for Apple was that these gains were limited to the US market and didn't extend to the international market. That seems to have changed in the last 6 months however.

The problems of Apple in Europe

The second largest market for Apple after the US is clearly Europe, led by Germany, France, Spain and the UK. These 4 countries alone probably represent a market of 200 million people. Up to this year however the market share of OSX stayed between 3 and 4 percent in Europe, mostly because of high price and low distribution. With the crash that the dollar experienced in the last 2 years Apple product have ended up being significantly more expensive in Europe than in the US. Here are a few examples: the cheapest Macbook available in Europe costs 949€, which translates to $1300. The cheapest Mac Mini goes for 599€, or around $850! Add to this the fact that until last year Macs were not widely available in Mediamarkt (the European equivalent of Best Buy) and you have poor conditions for Mac adoption.

The rise of European Macs

Things have changed the last year though: major electronic retailers are now selling Macs. The iPod craze allowed Apple to create a relationship with these distributors, so when consumer started to look for alternatives to the poorly accepted Windows Vista these shops started pushing Macs. The result is that following the latest study of the AT institute Apple managed to gain significant market share in Europe despite the high prices. Of the 4 countries analysed, only Spain still has an OSX population that falls under 5%. This is understandable because this was the poorest of the 4 countries covered by the study: in Spain Macs did start from a much lower market share because historically they were too expensive and could not gain any significant market share because of price.

More than 5% market share is significant!

Why is that 5% market share significant? Because it means that OSX can be considered a mass market in Europe, and not a US only phenomenon. This open the door for OSX to become a significant global player, and this at the expense of Microsoft Windows. In the last 6 months OSX market share gained close to 1%, Linux was either flat or progressed a little, and Windows fell. If we exclude Spain, Windows market share now hoovers around 92%, an all-time low. This indicates a significant change of attitude from European consumers that does not bide well for Microsoft.

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