In the past years, the media has speculated just how much of a threat WiFi hotspots are to UMTS. Well, from what I have experienced over the last few months, it is just the opposite. Equipped with a prepaid SIM card from Italian Operator WIND and a monthly data volume of several hundred megabytes for 20 Euros a month, I’ve travelled through many countries in the past months.
Many hotels offer WiFi coverage and if one is really lucky, there is even coverage in the room. However, in the days and age of UMTS, I am showing it the cold shoulder. As the price is right, I prefer to use a UMTS network, even if it is somewhat slower than a WiFi hotspot connected to the Internet via a DSL connection. I don’t have to worry about whether I have coverage in the room, no need to select the network, no fumbling with the credit card for buying expensive online time, and most of all: coverage directly in the room or wherever else I am when I need to communicate instead being forced to sit in a noisy and crowded hotel lobby.
As even Internet telephony via UMTS and Skype works flawlessly, the final advantage of Wifi hotspots is gone. At the airport I also don’t bother to search for a WiFi hotspot, UMTS or EDGE (in case my Italian SIM card can’t roam to a UMTS network in the country) is where I go. Great!
Well, the only place where the WiFi hotspot still has an advantage is in the plane at 30.000 ft ;-)
With the right SIM card and a good wireless data tariff such as the prepaid offer of the Italian operator WIND, the mobile traveler can surf the net these days anytime and anywhere. Costs are moderate and a GPRS/EDGE or UMTS networks can be found almost everywhere. While the web surfing experience with UMTS is close to that of DSL, EDGE and especially GPRS can not quite compete with a high speed fixed Internet access. For such slower connections, a number of manual Firefox browser settings can make a big difference.
A very effective method to speed-up the web browser is ‘Pipelining’. If enabled, several embedded elements of a web page, such as pictures, are requested at once after opening a TCP stream instead of being requested one after another. This decreases download times when using GPRS or EDGE, as fewer TCP connections are required to download a web page. Fewer TCP connections reduce the effect of longer round trip delay times of GPRS and EDGE compared to fixed line Internet connections. More detailed background information can be found here: http://www.mozilla.org/projects/netlib/http/pipelining-faq.html
Activation of Pipelining in Firefox:
A test with an extensive web page and previously deleted browser cache at first shows no difference in the time it takes to show the first part of web page. A big difference can be observed, however, in the time it takes to load the complete page. Instead of 60 seconds for loading the complete web page, the modified browser settings decreased the required time to 40 seconds!