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Unexpected results with an iPhone in Italy

This was to be an article about staying connected while traveling around northern Italy. Staying connected via the free WiFi and limited data package.

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In short, if your going to use one of the packages that AT&T offers for traveling overseas, it’s all about setting your email to only get email subject line and not attachements. I was happily keeping everyone up to date with pictures I posted to Facebook and Twitter, a email from time to time. Then, a friend sent me a 20 meg file that downloaded twice. There went my 50 meg package! So, I set off to find the ‘WiFi access is everywhere’ that I had read about on Web sites when researching the trip.

When at a good stopping point, I would check my iPhone for any local open WiFi (looking for intentionally open services, not someone who forget to set a password). Nothing was coming back. What was happening though was a quicker than normal discharge of the iPhone battery as it hunted and hunted for a WiFi signal.

To make sure this wasn’t due to a limitation in the iPhone system, I started using the app I use at home: WiFiFoFum (opens description in iTunes). It is very good at reporting back anything in the area that is a WiFi signal. I didn’t grab any screenshots when traveling but you can see from the developers images, the app looks out and tells you where there might be a signal around you and the particulars about that signal.

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Very important when your amongst the tall buildings and down narrow paths of the streets of Lake Como.

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In my usual travels, I carry a little charger from Richard|Solo – it is great because it is small and snaps onto the bottom of my iPhone. Also, it is a charger (1800) rather than most battery devices you find are just for powering your iPhone when really low on a charge.

For this trip I was trying a new device (new to me) from CallPod (callpod.com) since I was traveling with my wife and between us we had multiple devices that might run down on the long plane trip. I had chosen the CallPod because it charges using a standard wall outlet to USB, it has more than twice the milliamps (4800) of power stored and it could recharge or power two devices at once..

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The overall size of the device is barely larger around than the iPhone and about twice the thickness – so it fits very nicely into the Timbuk2 bag we use when walking about town.

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CallPod offers short cables to connect about any device you would want to charge, their site claims they cover over 2,000 devices. When you buy the charger you get a coupon for one free adapter.

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Just prior to getting off the plane in Milan on our way to Como, we each charged our iPhones (both were below 50% left prior to full recharge) and a Flip. Then, without recharging it the CallPod, we recharged my iPhone again early the next morning. Recharging the CallPod took a couple hours via the European wall outlet converter.

After a couple days of hammering on my iPhone searching for a open WiFi connection, I plugged in CallPods out to USB connector then plugged the iPhone sync cable into that. This way the charger was in the bag with a cable out to the iPhone in my pocket. Since I carried the Timbuk2 bag slightly behind me the cable was almost completely hidden. With this set up, we scanned for WiFi as we walked the streets and never had the battery on the iPhone drop off 99%.

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Next time… I will be slightly smarter with my iPhone data settings. And, will continue to make good use of the power the CallPod brings me when always looking for a signal or traveling a distance watching videos on the plane. Pretty happy with this purchase. Free WiFi can be found in larger public areas and almost exclusively to the larger towns… much like anywhere. I will be researching some of the Pay-to-Use WiFi offerings but since I was scanning and logging all the time I wasn’t finding one company that had coverage everywhere. Looking forward to another chance to travel to Italy to test!

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