The Globalgig Hotspot from Voiamo is a mobile data hotspot device that looks like a small and fat smartphone. After an initial outlay this Mi-Fi modem from ZTE combines with Globalgig's network to offer uncomplicated and inexpensive mobile Wi-Fi over 2G and 3G in the UK, US and Australia. Globalgig doesn't have its own network, of course, but partners with Three here in the UK, and Sprint and Optus elsewhere. Expect other countries to come online soon. See all Wi-Fi and networking reviews.
Update 12 March 2013: The Globalgig service has been expanded to include the Republic of Ireland, Hong Kong, Denmark and Sweden (to add to America, Australia and UK). Prices have been lowered to just £10 a gigabyte of data, no matter which of the supporting countries you use it. (See also: Uros GoodSpeed review - mobile broadband in 13 countries is slick, but not cheap.)
Globalgig Hotspot review: pricing
Simplicity is key here, and the Globalgig Hotspot offers robust connectivity at easy-to-understand prices for the connected traveler as they wend their way around the UK, or travel to the States and Oz. You pay £79 for the device, and then choose from three monthly fees - never being tied in to a contract. Shell out £15 for 1GB of data usage, £25 for up to 3GB, and £35 for 5GB. The same price across all three territories.
Perhaps as important for those of us who have maxed out their data on foreign business trips, the cost of data once you go beyond your prepaid limit is unlikely to cause any heart attacks. Put simply, if you go beyond your limit - no matter where you are - every further 1MB of data costs 4p. Compare that to your smartphone deal, and you'll feel pretty good about the Globalgig. If you travel often to the US and/or Australia, you'll recoup the upfront cost in a matter of months.
You do, of course, have to carry another device, plus its cables and plugs.
Globalgig Hotspot review: setup
Using the Globalgig Hotspot couldn't be easier. Well, I suppose it could, but not much easier. Out of the box you simply have to input the provided mini-SIM, pop in the supplied battery and charge the modem. The Mi-Fi device charges via mini-USB. We'd have preferred to see micro-USB so we could double up on cables with our Nexus 7 (and multiple smartphones and tablets), but at least it isn't a proprietary connector - mentioning no iPhones. Globalgig includes both US and UK chargers, which is a nice touch, and the Hotspot can charge direct from a PC's USB port - although in our initial testing this took a long time to charge the device from flat.
You may have to register your account - which in a potentially Kafkaesque twist requires internet connectivity - and then in a maximum of four hours your Globalgig Mi-Fi device is good to go. You hit the power button to boot up the Hotspot, and then it acts much like any other Wi-Fi router. The network is named 'GlobalgigAC30...' plus the final three digits of your Wi-Fi MAC ID. You find the network on your PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet, then enter the default password. And that's it.
We found that we could leave the Globalgig in our pocket or bag with no loss of connection. It is a good-looking device, but it is light and robust, so it shouldn't prove too obtrusive in use. The multiple plugs and extra cable will be a factor when packing for your trip, of course.
You can connect up to five separate devices to the Globalgig Hotspot at any one time, although not surprisingly we found that performance dropped off when multiple devices were sharing the connection. On which note...
Globalgig Hotspot review: connectivity tests
Let's start with some hard numbers, and then talk about the Globalgig Hotspot in use.
We used the Globalgig device to get online at our office in central London, my home in Surrey and all points inbetween. I used a Windows laptop, iPhone 5 and Nexus 7.
In all cases, including on a moving train, we could get online and stay there. In tests, the download speeds never dropped below 3mpbs - at least when we were using a single device.
For example - kitchen at the back of my 1950s, brick-built house is something of a deadspot for the Sky broadband connection (the router is a couple of walls away).
Using the Sky Wi-Fi, over several tests my iPhone was achieving 2.39mbps downloads and 0.63mbps up. The Windows 8 laptop was a not dissimilar 2.71mbps down and 0.67mbps up. Over the same connection our Nexus 7 endured 2.62mbps down- and 0.92mbps upload speeds. When connected to the Globalgig Hotspot things improved somewhat.
Our iPhone 5 enjoyed 4.66mbps down- and 1.81mbps upload speeds, for the PC the stats were 4.41bbps and 1.45mbps, and the Nexus 7 enjoyed a similar result (4.4mbps and 1.6mbps).
Which is not to say that the Globalgig is better than fixed-line broadband over Wi-Fi. All these tests show is that in certain conditions the Globalgig can outperform your home wireless. Much more important is our general experience - wherever we traveled in the UK we could always get online, quickly, and with a noticeable more zippy connection than that or our (O2 contract) iPhone. Most impressively of all we were able to watch TV streamed over the Sky Go app even on the train - something we've never been able to do over any other connection.
Indeed, the only time we were less than impressed with the Globalgig's connectivity was when we had all three devices connected, and when under load the throughput could on occasion drop to around 1.5mbps. We also experienced the occasional sudden drop of connection, usually when we were on the move.
We also tested the Globalgig in the US. The level of performance is similar on that side of the pond. This is to be expected as it is simply accessing Sprint. What's great is you know how much it's going to cost - in my San Francisco hotel it was much cheaper to use Globalgig than the hotel Wi-Fi - so I did.
After our initial charge we used the Globalgig on and off for several days and the battery was still going strong. We couldn't wear it out.
Globalgig Hotspot review: down sides?
The initial cost is one potential down side of the Globalgig Hotspot, if you're not a heavy user. Put simply, unless you use a lot of mobile data there are cheaper ways of getting online - even across two continents for light users it probably makes financial sense to have separate SIMS for each country.
It's mildly irritating to have to carry an extra cable and plug, and we'd like to see 4G connectivity for those that want it. It's also high time that Globalgig offered an online means of monitoring how much data you have used - something the company promises soon. Perhaps most importantly, the UK, Australia and the US is very far from being global, and the Globalgig hotspot would be a killer device if it was truly global. Perhaps this will happen soon.