It’s March of 2009 and I’m in New Zealand, on a month-long expedition, driving from town to town, ferrying from island to island, trying to understand what kind of country it is. (I like it so far! Except for the sand flies.) As you can imagine, keeping connected to the Internet is critical for my kind of business: I need to get online at least once or twice a day, or face a wave of angry messages from my customers. My trip coming to an end soon, and since I’ve been through quite a few of different places, I thought I would share my findings here, hopefully someone would find it of use when traveling to NZ.
Most cafes and hotels I stayed had computers in their lobbies with an Internet connection. If your online needs are modest (like you need to check your Gmail account, browse the web, or talk to someone via Skype), such computers should do just fine. Many have the coin slots attached, and for about NZ$2 per 20 or 30 minutes you can get online. The problem with such computers is that usually quite a few people want to use them, and you may spend some time waiting in line. The big advantage though is that you don’t need to bring your laptop with you, which could be important if you are traveling light.
Myself, I needed to bring my laptop with me, because it’s an integrated part of my business: I need it to access my customer’s database, and I also need to have at least a light version of my development environment in case a need for a quick bug fix arises. It means that taking the easy road and using the online computers I described above was not an option: I needed the full wireless access to the Internet.
Most hotels did offer the wi-fi access option, but not all: you better ask specifically about the wireless Internet availability before committing to the place. Keep in mind that even if a hotel advertises the wi-fi option, it does not necessarily mean it is actually available: in more than one place the wi-fi router was online but had trouble accepting connections. More than once I had to ask for a refund of the fee I paid and go search for the better wi-fi signal in the nearby cafes.
The common wireless access providers that I’ve encountered in more than one place were as follows:
This provider charges for the bandwidth rather than for the connection time. At first I was not sure how much bandwidth I would need, it seemed like the usual 50MB that you could buy for NZ$5 was not a lot. Turned out that was the most economical access that I encountered. To minimize the bandwidth I turned off the automatic Windows and anti-virus updates, shut down various programs that maintain constant Internet connection (Skype, RSS reader, etc.) and kept active only the actual programs I needed at that time. In such a mode, I was consuming less than 10MB per hour, doing just email checking and light web browsing. However, when I needed to talk to someone via Skype, the consumption quickly rose to about 1MB per minute. Still, it was pretty cheap.
One thing to keep in mind about Zenbu is that if you buy your access ticket at the reception, you can use that ticket only at that specific place, you cannot roll it over to another location. However, if you pay directly to Zenbu via their web site, you can use that bandwidth at any location.
These providers charge for the time used (they also have the bandwidth limits, but I have never reached them). The important thing about using them is not to forget to log off from the wireless access. This way, you can keep the remaining minutes and use them at another place serviced by the same provider. If you forget to log off, the minutes may keep rolling, even if you are not connected to the Internet anymore. These were not as economical as Zenbu, their prices were in the range between NZ$3 and NZ$8 per hour.
This was a complete waste of time. Before going on this trip, I tried to prepare myself: I’ve searched the Internet for the available Internet providers in NZ, and I came across the iPass service. From their web site it appeared like they had a lot of access points throughout New Zealand. They offered a Global Wi-Fi account for US$45.00/month with no commitment requirement, and it looked like a good thing to have. So the day before departure I opened an iPass account.
I had the first (and only) opportunity to use my iPass account in Auckland, at the Hyatt Regency hotel. I powered my laptop, opened the web browser, and indeed there was an option to login with my iPass account there. Unfortunately, my login name and password were not accepted. Having tried a few times, I gave up and went to a nearby cafe to connect via some other provider.
That happened to be the only place that I encountered that offered the iPass login option. None of the other places I stayed at had it available. So I contacted iPass about canceling the account and getting a refund. It took one email message and two phone calls, but I did receive the refund. Still, the iPass experience turned out to be just a waste of my time and energy. I guess I should take it easy and not get ‘overprepared’ next time.
Some of the places offered the private connection options, that is the time you buy there could be used only at that specific location and nowhere else. These were obviously the least flexible options, but what could you do if there was nothing else available. The prices usually were between NZ$3 and NZ$6 per hour, and one place offered 24-hour access for NZ$8, which was pretty good.
If the reception confirms that they do have a working wireless access point, it’s better not to hurry and buy the ticket at reception. Before doing that, I would usually try to connect from the laptop and see what kind of access was at that particular place. Chances were, the access would be provided by one of the common companies (see above) with which I’ve already opened an account at one of the previous places. If so, I could use the leftover minutes before paying for more time. Only if there was no option to connect and pay via the web browser I would go and buy the access time at the reception.