Traveling with your iPhone can create a major headache when it comes to using data internationally. From insane roaming fees to grossly overpriced data packages, there haven't been a lot of reasonable options, particularly if you're traveling to multiple countries in a single trip. I recently faced this dilemma myself while preparing for a trip to Europe. Even with unlocked iPhones, I couldn't find a single SIM card that would work in all of the four countries we were visiting. That's when I found the ComfortWay hotspot.
ComfortWay is advertised to work as a hotspot in over 100 countries for up to 8 devices at at time. ComfortWay also offered super low rates for high data speeds, and I'd only have to pay for what I used. I decided to give ComfortWay a try over the course of over two weeks while traveling through four different countries. And while I don't think it's a perfect solution to a much larger problem, I'll definitely be using the service again.
Inside the ComfortWay is a single SIM card that uses the same technology as the Apple SIM that debuted with the iPad Air 2. That means it has the ability to dynamically switch carriers when and if it needs to. When traveling abroad, the ComfortWay hotspot can scan for networks and change as it sees fit. As ComfortWay negotiates with more and more carriers, they are added to the pool and the firmware on your ComfortWay will update accordingly.
As for rates and tariffs, ComfortWay currently offers two ways to go. You can opt for a flat fee per megabyte and only pay for what you actually use, or you can opt into what they consider a business plan. This option gives you a set amount of megabytes for a set daily access fee. SMS and calling charges are also reasonable and cost far less than roaming would on a contract. You can see some of the rates in the screenshots above. The unit itself will only set you back around $100, and any credits you add will never expire and remain on your account until you use them.
In our case, buying SIM cards in each country would have been costly since sometimes we were only in that country for 2-3 days. That's another problem presented with local SIM cards that's hard to avoid. Sure they're cheap, as long as you're staying in the covered area and have an unlocked phone to use them with. And let's not forget that SIM will only power one device at a time. If you needed to power two phones in four countries like we did, those prepaid SIM card costs can add up quickly. These are important problems the folks at ComfortWay recognize and are actively trying to address.
Complexity of cellular carriers aside, the ComfortWay takes all the guesswork out of international data for you. There's no carrier to choose and no rates to look at. Simply charge up the unit and connect. The network name and password are located on the back of each unit on a sticker. You can also connect via WPS if you'd prefer by using the dedicated button. Launch Safari and go to comfortway.com. You'll be guided through setting up an account and loading credit the first time. After that, you'll be able to monitor usage and top up your balance if you need to. If the internet ever stops working, going to comfortway.com and reloading it works as well. I had to do this very few times.
While traveling I found that the ComfortWay persistently stayed connected to all my devices. Very seldom did I drop a connection or need to reload Safari in order to re-connect. When traveling from country to country, I also never had issues with it switching over seamlessly. Whenever I was within range of the ComfortWay unit, I had high speed data.
One thing to keep in mind is that while the ComfortWay can support up to 8 devices at once, all of them have to be in range. This means if more than one person is using it for mobile service, the minute you separate, you now have a problem. This is less of an issue with the ComfortWay as it is with the state of roaming as a whole. Either way, it's something to consider when traveling with groups. Of course you can always purchase more than one unit and link it to the same account, or create separate accounts.
We have two ComfortWay units to use while traveling and the only complaint I have about the hardware itself is that the battery icon doesn't seem to be very representative of the actual life left. For instance, the first day we used it I thought we were instantly going to have a problem when after 3 hours, the unit showed only 1 bar of battery left. However, that 1 bar of battery seemed to last for the next 6 hours with two devices connected to it. I'd like to see things like that fixed in a firmware update if possible since it's important to know exactly where you stand if you're depending on it to get around in foreign territory.
When all was said and done, the ComfortWay unit cost us about $100 in credit to use for two devices over a little more than two weeks time. We posted photos, communicated with family via Skype and iMessage, and sporadically used FaceTime audio. We didn't have a need for actual SMS or voice calls, so bear in mind that if you do, your total will be slightly higher than ours. Through AT&T, I would have paid almost double that for the same amount of data.
That being said, I think ComfortWay has made great strides where carriers refuse to, except T-Mobile who does actively seem to be trying to make traveling abroad lighter on your pocket. However, if you aren't a T-Mobile customer, these are still very real problems for frequent travelers. And for that reason, I'll be carrying a ComfortWay hotspot with me from now on while traveling abroad.
You can check out ComfortWay rates and purchase a unit for yourself via the link below. And as always, if you've got any input on international roaming or have any experience with ComfortWay or another similar product, let me know!