Last fall we were traveling and spent some time in the Tucson / Lazydays KOA Resort. As part of the amenities, we were given free Wi-Fi access during out stay. The Internet there is managed by Tengo Internet, which we understand loosely means “we have Internet.” Ummm. Maybe. Sometimes. I think it can be interpreted similarly to “Yes, we have no bananas.”
Yes, we had Wi-Fi. We were right across a street from the Wi-Fi antenna, and we had a good Wi-Fi signal. Having a good Wi-Fi signal is not synonymous with having good Internet. Or any Internet at times.
I found that at about 4:00 am I had decent Internet. At 4:00 pm the Internet was so slow it was practically unusable. At 8:00 pm it was so slow that my phone said I had no Internet and it switched to cellular data, at $10/gigabyte. Ouch!!
Tengo Internet had a paid option that they guaranteed would provide 5 megabits/second speeds. I paid. It didn’t help. I still essentially had no Internet connectivity at the busy times of day, and I don’t think I ever saw 5 Mb/s speeds (except maybe at 4:00 am).
After a week of this, when we were depending on having Internet available, I decided it was time to find a solution. I looked into standard mobile hotspot providers, like Verizon and T-Mobile. The problem was that you had to pay a monthly subscription fee whether you were using the hotspot or not. And since we wanted it just when traveling, sometimes for a few days at a time, that didn’t seem like a good solution. And what if the provider I chose didn’t have good coverage in the area I needed it?
Eventually I stumbled across SolisWiFi.co, at that time, SkyRoam. (Some areas of their website still identifies it as SkyRoam.) I purchased a Solis Lite WiFi hotspot, about the size of a hockey puck.
This device has a built-in battery that lasts up to 16 hours. Add an app to your mobile phone to control the hotspot and purchase Internet access, and you’re ready to go. When powered on, the Solis Lite will find the best provider to connect to, and provide you with 4G Internet. It’s not 5G. But good 4G was plenty fast enough for us.
You can connect up to 10 devices to the hotspot. That easily covered both of our mobile phones, an iPad, a laptop PC, and an Echo Dot. Range was easily 20 feet or more.
The Solis Lite worked well when sitting around camp. When we went to the pool, we took it with us. Several times we went to a picnic area in Saguaro National Park, and took the hotspot with us there. We had no cell phone service – none at all. Yet the hotspot was able to find enough signal from some carrier that we were able to access the Internet without problem.
We also carried the Solis Lite in the car when we were traveling. We typically track our trip on maps and other applications on my iPad or our phones, and that map updating can use significant data. Using the Solis Lite hotspot in the car kept us from using our expensive cellular data.
Where does it work? They say in over 130 countries worldwide. USA coverage seems to be pretty good. I don’t recall encountering any place that it didn’t work for us.
How much? The hotspot was about $125. There are several purchase plans for Internet usage. You can purchase by the megabyte, by the day or by the month (with usage caps). If you can predict your usage, the monthly plans are probably the cheapest (your mileage may vary). As I write this, a USA monthly subscription that includes 10GB of data is $40 (there are several other options). That’s $4/GB, much cheaper than my phone data plan of $10/GB (I’ll be shopping around soon…). If you exceed your monthly plan, you can add data at any time. Global plans are a bit more expensive than USA plans.
If you choose to purchase by the Megabyte, that starts at $8 for 1 GB, $35 for 5GB, $60 for 10GB, and $100 for 20GB.
The Global Unlimited Daypass is $9. Unlimited data. Anywhere. Great if you need data just for a day. You can buy these in advance (watch for sales) and activate them when you need.
Check the plans carefully. They seem to change from time to time, so don’t assume that a plan you had six months ago is identical to the plan you can get now.
Where can you get the Solis Lite? Last fall it was available from Amazon. I purchased it directly from SkyRoam, and was very disappointed in the shipping. They don’t seem to care that you might want it soon. It took several days for it to ship, and I think they paid extra to have USPS delay it for a few more days. Right now, Solis WiFi’s site says it’s out of stock. There is one left on Amazon (search for Skyroam Solis). I also found it at Target and Ebay. It’s out of stock at several other places, which makes me wonder if there is a supply problem, or if they may have stopped manufacturing that model and may be coming out with something new.
Was the Solis Wi-Fi Hotspot without problems? No. Several times the hotspot locked up with an error message in the app, and I had to power it off and back on to get it working. When I tried to change the password through the app, I found that the display was white on white – not exactly readable. At one point I had a few GB of data left in the monthly plan, and I was metering it out to avoid buying extra data to make it through the month. The plan expired many hours before the app indicated it would and I lost the remaining data. I suspect a problem in the app having to do with the difference between UTC and local time caused that, but support was unable to tell me what had happened. Overall, though, it worked well.
Note that my analysis and purchase was about six months ago. Things change quickly, so check around for other options. That said, we have been happy with the Solis Lite, and I think we saved some money on our one trip with it. There is a convenience to being able to access multiple carriers. Keep an eye on the app or the Solis website for deals. They frequently have discounts on data (there is a 30% off monthly plans right now). You can always buy data for use in the future.