Anytime I travel in the US, it’s always a hassle to stay connected without incurring huge roaming fees. I’ve written about some of the work arounds I’ve used including unlocked phones with iPad sims but it always feels like a hack.
The US carriers (as well as those in Canada), make it very difficult to legitimately purchase temporary data only plans for travellers from out of country. Often, the systems in place to purchase these plans require US credit cards and/or US addresses with no options to accept postal codes, provinces, etc.
They also keep changing the rules and costs so it’s a constant thing you need to get reacquainted with every time you travel. Just try asking at a mobile kiosk or store as well, it’s usually met with blank stares or attempts to sign you for a monthly plan.
So what is the Liberty?
Basically, the Liberty is a mobile wifi hotspot. It acts like a wifi router giving up to five devices internet access via wifi that it broadcasts. You choose your plan before you leave Canada (although you can do it online from anywhere), then the hotspot is active for the time your purchased. You can setup your own hotspot name and password easily via a web interface once the device is powered on.
As you can see, it’s very compact (smaller than an iPhone 4S as you can see below), and fits easily in your pocket. It has a small lcd display that tells you signal strength, battery left (just like a cell phone would) and the number of connected devices. The battery lasts easily 8+ hours and uses a standard micro-USB cord to charge. You can plug it into your computer, a wall outlet or your car to get wifi on the go.
The plans are fairly reasonable and much cheaper than any adhoc roaming options I’ve seen from any Canadian carrier. They aren’t cheaper than a pay as you go plan on AT&T or similar but as I’ve mentioned, there are always all kinds of hoops to jump through to be able to use those cheaper plans. The nice thing about the Liberty is also that it doesn’t require an unlocked phone to work…although you’ll only get data and not voice/txt if you go this route. If you have an unlocked phone, you can also get a SIM card from Roam and they also have complete phones you can buy that give you voice and text support.
My only beef with the service is that there is no way to determine how much data you have left other than calling or using their online chat feature (which works really well as I’ve used it a couple of times).
I was loaned a hotspot for SXSW but I liked it so much I bought my own when I got back. I’ve used it many times over the course of the year and it has worked great every time.
Update (April 23, 2013): Roam will have nano SIM cards available this May (perfect for an unlocked iPhone 5) and they can found in over 400 retail stores (now including London Drugs) across six provinces. See their Where To Buy page for more details