This perk could make staying connected significantly cheaper on your next vacation
Just in time for vacation season, the global hospitality group Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) announced that they have teamed up with Silicon Valley-based Skyroam to offer a new way for their guests to connect to the internet while traveling in Europe and the Middle East.
Founded in 2008 by Jing Liu, Skyroam provides travelers with a WiFi hotspot that they say can serve as a cheaper alternative to roaming cellular plans. Along with their base in San Francisco, they also have offices in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
In August 2015, Skyroam received $23.5 million for their Series B founding round, which was led by Lenovo Group with participation from CBC Capital, GSR Ventures, Vickers Venture, and other private investors. Previously, they had only raised $1.5 million for their Series A financing round.
The devices can be used on the hotel grounds — which is a great alternative to the astronomical prices for on-premises WiFi — or while on the move, skirting around through your destination.
So whether using the hotspot for finding a restaurant, navigating with Waze, working on a project, or even just wanting to stream a movie at the hotel, this can be a very useful solution for staying connected.
The small hand-held hotspots allow users to connect up to five devices, with unlimited data usage. Skyroam says that the battery should hold up for eight hours, but as with everything, results likely vary. Pricing for their use runs on a 24-hour basis, at a flat rate of €9.99 per day. So while not a small expense per say, it definitely falls on the reasonable side for the service, particularly if you are traveling in a spot where reliable WiFi connections are harder to find and your home carrier charges an arm and a leg for roaming.
Like other telecom providers that offer coverage while roaming, Skyroam has set up partnerships with local carriers for the data service, letting the user piggyback off of the local network. When the user turns on the device, it immediately finds the right signal and starts transmitting WiFi.
Corey Jones, Skyroam’s VP of Marketing, told Geektime in an email that in this new partnership with Starwood, the devices are now available at hotels in places like Belgium, Germany, and Israel, among other locations. He adds that, “The Aloft Brussels Schuman will be the first hotel to offer Skyroam rentals as an optional free amenity to SPG Platinum guests.”
Jones tells Geektime that they recognize that finding a local SIM can be a cheaper option for some travelers, but says that it can be a hassle.
“Sometimes finding a local SIM in each country and applying it to an unlocked phone can be cheap,” he says, adding that, “With travel being complicated enough, many opt out of the extra steps required with this option (e.g. locating a mobile or electronics shop, technical know-how to set it up).”
He points out that for travelers moving between countries, figuring out which plan covers them best can be confusing and time intensive.
Another advantage is the flexibility that they provide with the 24-hour package. Especially for many business travelers who may find themselves abroad for only two to three days, even a $40 flat price for 3 gigs over the course of a month may make the Skyroam an attractive option, both in its data capacity as well as the a la carte options for days of use.
Finally, Jones adds that using the hotspot gives the user a layer of protection, since surfing on public networks is not secure. While they use the less than totally secure GSM encryption, it is still a far cry better than searching for an open network that could be used to break into your device.
Is this useful?
Deciding whether or not to go the route of using a hotspot for staying connected while on the road comes down to a couple of different factors.
Personally when I travel, I generally go with the 3 gig internet package from my home carrier. I like knowing that my phone can continue to operate normally, without being dependent on an additional device. Using my phone’s hotspot, I can connect my tablet and laptop if necessary, and for me it is enough.
That said, when I travel, it is generally alone to places with reliable WiFi, and my 3 gigs of data is more than enough. It is worth noting that Israeli carriers also have significantly cheaper prices for mobile than most Western providers, who would have to deal with a different calculation.
For those traveling with a family or colleagues, having one device that covers the connectivity for the whole crew can be very effective. Even if you are setting up shop at the hotel to prep for an important presentation, or all the kids want to stream movies on their iPads, the €9.99 per day is well worth it.
The fact that Starwood is offering the Skyroam device as a part of their package for guests is a positive sign that they understand the needs of their customers to stay connected. With some time, hotels handing out these types of devices to premium visitors, and then eventually the rest of us could become a welcome and standard practice.
Now if they could just add a kill switch for those of us non-business travelers trying to unwind during our next vacation, that’d be gravy.