Tag Archives: Internet on the Road

July 2020 News: Google Photos Redesigned, Mobile Internet Update, Shaky video

  July 2020 | Issue 155  | Archives
What’s Up with Jim and Chris – the Geeks?
June was another full month of quarantine, but we got away for a couple of days during the last week. Our dive club arranged for a day trip to the keys to paddle kayaks around in the mangroves. We jumped at the chance to get away and took our camper van a couple days earlier. Ahhhhh – such beautiful sunsets. We continued our Zoom meetings and added paid
workshops on Google photos. We got some great feedback, so we plan to make these online workshops a regular part of our schedule.  See our June Google Photos album for some more pictures, and our blog for the rest of the story.
What Does This Button Do?
We added two new episodes to our YouTube “Button” shows in May.
Members Only Zoom meeting / classes
We did not have any separate meetings or classes for our members in June, but we did hold after show “Backstage Pass” meetings after both of the button shows.
Tutorial Videos – for members
We also added several new short show-me videos for Google Photos. See the complete list here.

What’s coming up – Our Calendar
               July 5 3pm ET Backstage Pass Zoom for Premium Members
Monday, July 6 12pm ET Chris will be a guest on “Tech for Seniors” with Ron Brown and Hewie Poplock. Here topic is Sharing with Google Photos
Monday, July 27 10:15pm ET! Golden Gate Computer Society remote meeting. Google Photos presentation.
We’re still under stay home orders.
All personal public appearances are cancelled for the foreseeable future.
Announcing!! Google Photos Workflow: a hands-on workshop with Chris Guld, a Google Photos product expert. Chris will show you how best to work with Google Photos. You’ll even have exercises to do on your own device with Google Photos.
  • What: a 2 hr workshop held over Zoom with maximum 6 attendees
  • When: 1) Friday, July 17 at 1pm Eastern to 3pm
  • Cost: $49 per person
  • How to sign up: Click Here
Live YouTube Shows Sunday at 2pm Eastern time. Most weeks.
If we don’t do a live Button Show, we’ll do a Member Zoom at 2pm Eastern.
Live Zoom meetings for Premium Members after the live shows. Watch your email for announcements of scheduled shows.
Stay safe. Wash your hands.
Ask the Geeks Q&A forum.

Anyone can read the forum, only members can ask questions. This is a valuable benefit of membership. Join Today! Here are some recent discussions:

  1. Sending pictures from Google Photos by email
  2. Samsung phone won’t save edits
  3. EXIF Tags
  4. Blogs-Updated Google Photos
  5. Posting from Google Photos to Youtube

Lots of Changes for Google Photos

Google Photos turns 5 years old and gets a facelift. The next time you open the app, you may feel a bit lost because the 3-line menu is gone, as are the Albums tab and the For You tab. Don’t worry, everything is still there, it’s just all been rearranged.
This article includes images of the old app, the new app, and where all the commands have been moved. If you want to learn more about how Google Photos has changed this week, We will be live on YouTube this Sunday at 2 p.m, Eastern explaining the redesign of Google Photos.

Staying Connected on the Road – anything new?

Yes, and no. 5G is coming but it’s not here yet. Starlink is covering the globe with Internet from Satellites but don’t plan on using it for at least a year. The cellular carriers have some great unlimited data plans that have been discontinued, but Visible is still a good option.
If you want to know what the best data plan is today, and you want to be able to take advantage of improvements tomorrow, you want to listen to Chris Dunphy and Cherie VeArd of MobileInternetInfo.com. They were our guests on Episode 193 of our YouTube show. You can watch the YouTube video here, and notice that we’ve marked the chapters so you can quickly jump to where they discuss the
different topics: Starlink, Unlimited Data Plans, Streaming options, 5G, and more.

Google Photos can stabilize videos


All you have to do is open the video, tap the edit button and then the stabilize icon (it looks like a skewed rectangle within a square) and Google Photos does all the rest. You must be using Google Photos on an Android device to have this feature.

Read More

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Winegard ConnecT WF1 WiFi Extender for RVs

by Jim Guld

Winegard is taking their extensive knowledge of TV antenna technology to the WiFi frequencies with the new RV Internet WiFi Extender they named ConnecT. They provided us with a pre-release model to test and we put it thru its paces at an RV park and parked in a friend’s yard.

What is the ConnecT?

The ConnecT’s purpose is to extend available WiFi signals from public or private hotspots you find at RV Parks, Truck Stops, Rest Areas, etc. for a better signal over a longer distance to your rig.

The ODU, or Out Door Unit, is designed to be permanently mounted on your roof with the provided hardware. It has 3 high-gain antennas and 3 amplifiers and feeds the hotspot signal through a network cable to the IDU, or In Door Unit.

The IDU creates a private and secure WiFi network inside and around your rig to connect all your Internet devices, computers, tablets, phones, and printers. You have both 2.4GHz and 5GHz band networks and you can configure a Guest Network as well.
It can be free standing or mounted to a wall.
The IDU is powered by an AC adapter and uses POE (Power Over Ethernet) to power the ODU through the RG-45 cable.

Setting it Up

imageWe were at an RV park in Florida, for the Living The RV Dream rally when the ConnecT arrived. It came well packaged with installation sheets.
Links below the review will take you to the Winegard product and support pages.

I chose to not mount the ODU permanently to my RV roof for the evaluation.
Your mounting location should be carefully planned. The three removable antennas on the ODU might be prone to damage from low hanging dangers. A 25′ cable is included so you have a lot of freedom.

Once everything was connected and powered, it was easy to go through the setup on the computer in a web browser. I connected to the ConnecT’s default WiFi signal and opened a browser window. The instructions are clear and easy to follow with screen shots.

  • Navigate to to open the local configuration screen.
  • Login and scan for available WiFi signals.

I was impressed by the number of results on the page. Many more WiFi hotspots than my unaided laptop could see. The page recommends connecting to those with greater than 50% signal. The only one available to me was pretty close and strong. The others were password protected but it was a good first test.

The drop-down menu system for other options could be more user-friendly. Maybe better on-screen prompts. Response speed in the interface should be improved as well.

My initial Internet speed tests through the ConnecT were good. Only the expected loss from earlier direct connection tests because of the way networks work.

Remember, when you connect to a WiFi hotspot, your effective speeds are limited to the Internet bandwidth available to that hotspot. Even if you have a great connection to a hotspot, that hotspot may not be connected to a fast Internet source or their shared connection is overloaded.

Most of you have probably been there.

I went through the steps to upgrade the firmware without a problem and everything connected back up fine.

Configuring the ConnecT and Having Problems

I renamed the SSIDs for the 2.4 and 5GHz networks and enabled the Guest Network and set new passwords. I tested those networks and everything seemed fine at first. I was looking forward to using the ConnecT for our Youtube live streaming session the next day.
That’s when the trouble started. When we really needed it, I started to have problems with bad slow downs and even drops. I reset everything several times. Sometimes now it took several tries to even reconnect. When I did and checked all the settings, everything looked fine.
I still encountered problems connecting. Sometimes to the local IDU and sometimes it was inside the system to the available outside signals.

Starting Over

We made it thru the Youtube live streaming event, sometimes switching over to our Verizon phones as hotspots. Later, I did a factory reset on the ConnecT and performed a new setup. That seems to have fixed my problems.

Next Stop, Everything Works Great

We moved to a rural location for further testing. We parked our rig on a friend’s piece of land. We were between two available residential WiFi routers inside buildings about 30 and 100 yards away. I had an unobstructed line of sight to the closer building. There were a few trees between me and the farther signal. My laptop unaided could only see the closer signal and sometimes had trouble staying connected. The ConnecT even saw a few other distant signals on the scan results. Both connections were solid and speeds were consistent.

The ConnecT had no trouble connecting me to distant WiFi signals I couldn’t even see on my laptop’s built-in adapter. That’s what this thing is for.
The convenience and security of having all your devices connecting to your own local network are great. You can finally get that wireless printer to work with everything.

Overall, the system works quite well. The $549 price seems a bit high. You will learn a little about networks in the process and the instructions are clear. Permanent installation of the ODU on your roof might require a pro.

Here are links:

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#97 Living the RV Dream

Show Notes for Members below

Not a member? Join here. This episode covers:

  1. Tip o Week: Setting an Alarm
  2. Beginner’s Lesson: About RVing!
    Interview John & Kathy Huggins, LivingTheRVDream.com
    Interview Eric and Tami Johnson, TechnoRV.com
  3. App o week: Ookla Speedtest, OpenSignal, Google Maps

Download .pdf (you’ll see a Dropbox login, but you can just close it – no Dropbox account is needed)

Click Here To View This
Beginning Where are we?
Living The RV Dream Rally
1:11 Tip of the Day – Set an alarm with OK Google (or Siri)
Simply talk to your phone: Android = OK Google, Set a timer for 15 minutes.
Apple: Siri = hold down on home button until she’s listening, then “Set a timer for 15 minutes”
1:34 Interview John and Kathy Huggins of LivingTheRVDream.com
John and Kathy have been fulltime RVers for about 10 years. They are best known for their weekly podcast, “Living the RV Dream” and for their extremely popular Facebook Group: Living the RV Dream.  Over 34,000 members and growing daily!
imageThey’ve also written a couple of RVing books. So You Want To Be An RVer? will tell you everything you might every want to know about RVing!

John and Kathy discuss how RVing has allowed them to see so many things in the United States. Especially Mr. Rushmore!

Note: we had a little technical difficulty with the video for a while, but we covered with photos – and the live video does pick up here.

10:16 We talk with John and Kathy about Internet Technology on the Road.
15:28 Interview Eric and Tami Johnson of TechnoRV.com


Eric and Tami bought TechnoRV from our friends Phil and Tracey May. Years ago, we put together our own RV rallies called Techno-Geek Learning Rally. Phil and Tracey have since moved back to their home in the UK. We are enjoying getting to know Eric and Tami.

They talk about how they made the decision to go RVing. With 3 kids in college, they have a few more considerations than many of us!


Eric and Tami are continuing the TechnoRV process of evaluating, using, and supporting products that are useful to RVers. They’ve done a great job of vetting their products, teaching how to use them, and supporting their customers.

Some of the products they sell at TechnoRV.com

25:16 Eric does a little bit of Show and Tell and teaching about  his Wi-Fi booster equipment. Indoor antennas, outdoor antennas, and repeaters. Wi-Fi vs. Cellular.
He shows the Alfa Desktop WiFi Booster. The Alfa WiFi Repeater, and and Outdoor WiFi Booster TubeThere’s lots more on their website, and if you fill out the form on this page, you can get their
“Guide to Boosting your RV’s WiFi”http://www.technorv.com/RV_WiFi_Boosters_s/85.htm
33:05 App of the Week
In addition to our App, both of our guests had some suggestions!
Ookla Speedtest, OpenSignal, Google Mapsimage

Printicular is the only app we’ve found that can access your Google Photos. Choose the ones you want to print, send to the Walgreen’s nearest you and you can pick up your prints in an hour!

36:11 Tami gets excited about Google Photos!! She learned this week how easy it is to import her lifetime of photos from many different sources.

Ends at 37:55 Complete Playlist of What Does This Button Do shows.

Reset Your Cellular Connection

imageIf you believe your phone is not getting the best signal possible, you can “kick it” and force it to re-acquire its cell signal. This is like hanging up from a phone call with a bad connection. Then call back and you’ll most likely get a better connection. Not always, but often.
You could reboot the whole phone, but it’s quicker to just reset the cellular connection:

  1. Turn on airplane mode – that “hangs up” – turns off all radios
  2. Turn Off airplane mode – that turns on the radios and forces it to re-acquire the cell signal

Watch this 1 minute video to see exactly what we mean.

Track your data usage with My Data Manager

So many people ask us, “Why am I using so much data on my phone?”
The built in data usage tools just don’t give me enough detailed information.  I looked for an app and found My Data Manager.
I wanted to know exactly how much data was used by watching a 45 minute YouTube video. I turned on my data manager,  watched the video,  and got my answer:
I really liked the real-time data this app provides, but you may like the historical data, or the fact that you can set up alerts for when you are about to hit the limits of your data plan. There’s even a new feature that will track usage of everyone on a shared plan. In any case, it’s a handy little app to answer that question, Why am I using so much data?
  • App: My Data Manager
  • Author: Mobidia Technology
  • Cost: $0
  • Platform: Apple iOS and Android
Some tutorial videos related to this topic:

Internet on the Road: Then and Now

Click the picture to read our Blog post for that day.

In celebration of our 100th issue of our newsletter, we’re looking back to the beginning. Our third newsletter – August 4, 2007 – featured an article “The #1 Best Thing to Improve your Wi-Fi Internet Connection.” If you read that article, you will see that surprisingly, not much has changed about improving your Wi-Fi connection. But, cellular barely existed back then! Now, it’s the primary method used to get online.

Even before we called ourselves Geeks on Tour, we lived in an RV and traveled the country representing a company called Coach Connect (now out of business.) They installed Wi-Fi Hotspots in RV parks and we followed along behind and taught the staff and visitors how to use it. When we needed Internet and we were not at one of these parks, we used our Datastorm Satellite dish (also now out of business.) We liked it so much that Jim became an installer, and we went to all the Datastorm Users Rallies.

We taught “Internet on the Road” at many FMCA and other rallies.

It was Coach Connect that gave us our start teaching seminars at the big RV Rallies. In 2008 we wrote a 4 page article for FMC Magazine that we thought was a definitive guide on Internet on the Road! Now, our friends Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of RVMobileInternet.com, have published a 243 page book on the topic! And, they update it constantly on their website. They keep track of the Cellular providers, all the different plans, and all the different devices. That is a fulltime job and we’re so glad they’re doing it! Chris and Cherie were our featured guests on a recent “What Does This Button Do?” show. Episode #72: How Do I Connect to the Internet while Traveling? Clicking the link will take you to our Show Notes. We normally reserve our Show Notes for members only, but this one we’re making public. You can watch the full YouTube video, (about an hour),  or you can just read the notes, or you can read the notes and click the links in the left sidebar to watch the portion of the video pertaining to the notes.

Chris and Cherie join us for "What Does This Button Do?" show on Internet connections,
Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy of Technomadia.com and RVMobileInternet.com


#72 How do I Connect to the Internet while Traveling? What Does This Button Do?

Show Notes below

This episode covers:

  1. Tip o Week: Using your Smartphone (Android or iPhone) as a WiFi Hotspot
  2. Beginner’s Lesson: Discussion of Mobile Internet options with Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of RVMobileInternet.com

Download .pdf (you’ll see a dropbox login, but you can just close it – no Dropbox account is needed)

Click Here To View This
Beginning Introduction: Coming to you from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. With Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of RVMobileInternet.com coming to you from an outdoor location in West Texas near Fort Davis.
You will hear some wind sound because of this.
2:51 Tip o Week: Turning your phone into a hotspot
iPhone: Settings->Personal Hotspot->turn it ON. You can configure the name of the hotspot and a password.
Android (Samsung on Verizon Unlimited): Settings->More Networks->Mobile Hotspot->ON  If you have a plan that allows you to use the hotspot feature directly, you’re done. If your plan does not allow it, this won’t work. You’ll get a message saying you need to Call Verizon Customer Service to turn on the feature.
If you know your plan does not allow Hotspot, you can use the third party app called FoxFi. First you turn FoxFi on, then it will ask you to go the first setting and turn on Mobile Hotspot. Note: if you already tried turning on Mobile Hotspot directly and were denied (like we just did) this won’t work until you reboot your phone. You must start with the FoxFi app first.
Android (Nexus on Project Fi) Settings->Networks->More->Tethering and Portable Hotspot->Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot=ON The first time you do this you need to Set up Wi-Fi hotspot by giving it a name and a password.
Here is our Member Video #412: Turn Your Phone into a WiFi Hotspot
6:42 How to connect to the mobile Hotspot using your computer. On either Windows or Mac, just click the button to connect to a WiFi hotspot – you should see your phone’s hotspot show up on that list. Click it, click connect, enter the password. You’re on!
7:43 Introductions: Chris and Cherie of Technomadia.com and RVMobileInternet.com. They live fulltime in an RV – a converted vintage bus – and travel the country. They’ve written a book imagecalled The Mobile Internet Handbook and are constantly learning about the latest and greatest technology. They are currently parked outside of Fort Davis, Texas precisely because it has extremely poor Internet connectivity. They are testing a variety of cellular boosters to see which one is best. In order to get enough Internet to join us on this show they drove into the center of Fort Davis and set up at a park. They use their phone – on Verizon – as their WiFi hotspot in order to stream their video to us.
Both Chris and Cherie are longtime technology geeks, Chris tells how he used to work for Palm Computing and he traveled the world to scope out the competition. Cherie ran a software development business and took that on the road when she met Chris. As long as they had mobile Internet, they could do their work. So they have become experts in that subject and they wrote THE book!
13:06 Overview of different methods to connect on the road.
Cellular: from a hotspot device, or a cellphone, with a cellular service like Verizon, TMobile, AT&T or Sprint.
Public WiFi Hotspot: there are Public hotspots almost everywhere, but don’t expect to have Internet connections like you’re accustomed to at home. You need to be close to the source of the hotspot, and you need to realize that a lot of people are sharing the same connection. Set your expectations! You will be able to check your email and check a few websites, but don’t plan to stream video. WiFi signals are very Line-of-Sight. The best thing you can do for improving your signal at an RV park WiFi hotspot is to get your antenna up on the roof.
Satellite: not appropriate for most people, it is very expensive. But for RVers who like to park in the wilderness, it is the only way to connect.
16:36 Is it safe to use Public WiFi hotspots?
Most secure websites, like your Bank’s, use a protocol called HTTPS. If you look at the web address and see the S and a little padlock, it means you are on a secure connection – you are safe. The problem comes when you leave the secure website, go to some open website, like a forum and use the same password as you just did on the bank’s site. Don’t do that! Use unique passwords.
What about using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) – yes, VPN services do provide complete security, but they add complexity and they slow down your experience.
Chris D. mentions that there are advanced VPN services that can even make it look like you are connecting from a different country.
Cherie says that VPNs are overkill, not recommended for casual users.
20:34 WiFi Antennas
Cherie shows the PepWave Surf on the Go The antenna on this device will pick up signal from a nearby Public WiFi hotspot and re-broadcast it to you devices as your own private WiFi hotspot. It can also us a cellular USB modem as the source for the Internet and re-broadcast that.
WiFi-Ranger is a similar device but more powerful, and more expensive!
23:24 Current state of Satellite Internet
Two new options in the past year. Roof mounted robotic dish with pay as you go service. RV DataSAT 840. Not available on tripod. Roof space is a problem if you have a lot of solar panels!
A new tripod option is Mobile HughesNet Ka-Band from RTC.
25:06 Cellular Connections:
Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, TMobile. These work thru the cell towers and they go much longer range than public WiFi hotspot. You need to buy a data plan from one of these providers. Verizon has the best coverage nationwide in the US, AT&T is a close second, TMobile has doubled their coverage in the past year, Sprint is a far fourth.
Only the newest phones connect to the new coverage with TMobile. It’s called Extended Range LTE, or Band-12. (Note: in order to read the full article you need to be a member of MIA (Mobile Internet Aficionados – Chris and Cherie’s private membership group) You can join here, and use the coupon code GeeksOnTourMIA for a discount.Do you need a hotspot device, or can you use your phone as hotspot?  The problem with phones is that you want it with you. So if Internet is being provided by one person’s phone, and that person goes somewhere else, the Internet goes with them. Or, when you both leave, there is no way to have a remote monitoring device on. Chris and Cherie like using a Hotspot (aka MiFi or Jetpack) device as their primary Internet connection, then use their phones as hotspot when they need more.
28:29 Chris G. asks about using the SIM card from one of their Verizon phones (with Unlimited data) and putting it into a hotspot device instead. YES! Verizon allows this. Verizon is under legal obligation to allow the hotspot feature and not to throttle their unlimited.
Although you can put the SIM card into an older hotspot device, an old device will not be able to access the new XLTE signal. XLTE is like the carpool lane. To avoid overcrowding on the primary signal ‘lanes’ the XLTE is rolling out, but you need a current device to get into that ‘lane.’ The newest Jetpack is the AC791-L.
31:01 Signal strength vs. Internet Speed
The 5-bar, or 5-dot, indicator is just the phone’s interpretation of the signal strength. Speedtest.net and the Speedtest app  is how to test the actual throughput speed. Sometimes there is no correlation between the signal strength and the actual speed. Speed is what counts.
32:47 image
Chris D. demonstrates how to take the jetpack apart to see the SIM card. Take out the one there, and insert another. The SIM card (Subscriber Information Module) is the identification of the contract to connect to the cell tower.
Here is a Geeks on Tour video on installing SIM cards in Samsung phone in Europe
34:55 Options for people who travel Canada, US, Mexico
TMobile is the gold standard for this! TMobile plans cover “Mobile without Borders” Your plan will work just fine, you just don’t get the Binge On feature. TMobile also works in Europe, but not high speed, just 3G speeds. TMobile for travelers is awesome.
Verizon also allows International use for a $2/day in North America and $10/day around the world in their partner countries. , just not with the old unlimited plans! See details at Verizon International services page.
36:58 How do I track my data usage?
First of all, no need to track data usage if you have an unlimited data plan! You can still get an unlimited Verizon plan if you’re willing to jump thru hoops – Verizon does not offer them any more. See Chris and Cherie’s report on Navigating Verizon Grandfathered Unlimited Data Plans – Assumption of Liability, Buying & Renting.To limit your data usage:
1. Turn off all syncing for photos on Google Photos, Facebook, Dropbox etc.
2. Turn off automatic updates
3. Turn off automatic video playing on Facebook (see Geeks on Tour video on how to do this: 410. Facebook on Android – Stop Video Autoplay *FREE)Monitor your data usage with tools from your provider. You can set up notifications for when you’re getting close to your limits. You can change plans mid month if you need to.
39:26 TMobile’s Binge On
On current TMobile plans, you can watch certain streaming video sites without the counting against your data cap. HBO, Netflix etc. but not Youtube.
Because of their plans, TMobile is the perfect 2d plan for travelers. Verizon or AT&T for the coverage, TMobile for all the goodies.
41:02 App o Week: Coverage
imageThese Technomads also write apps for iPhone as a side hobby. A great one is for US travelers to see what carrier has coverage in the areas you’re going. It’s called Coverage, Two Steps Beyond is their company.

  • Easily know before you go: Avoid having to check each provider’s coverage map individually to know where you’re most likely to keep connected.
  • No internet needed: All maps are stored locally, so you can see where coverage next is most likely even when you have none.
  • Urban and rural maps: Maps cover the entire continental USA for Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.
  • Know where to roam: view LTE, ‘4G’, 3G, 2G and roaming areas as separate overlays, focus on the coverage type you need.
  • Universal App – iPhone, iPod Touch and IPad, OS 5.1 and higher.
44:43 To learn more from Chris and Cherie:
1. their book, The Mobile Internet Handbook
2. their website, RVMobileInternet.com
3. their members-only resource center, Mobile Internet Aficionados (remember coupon code GeeksOnTourMIA)
4. their Facebook group: Internet for RVers
5. Sign up for their free newsletter
47:12 REVIEW Questions

1.T/F If you buy the right equipment, and know how to use it, you can get online ANYWHERE.

2.Which cellular carrier is generally accepted to have the best nationwide coverage today?

3.If you have a smartphone, you can share its Internet connection with your computer by turning on the _______________ feature.

4.You pay for cellular access based on the amount of Data you use. How do you keep track of that amount?

5.T/F If you buy an antenna to boost the reception of your cell phone, that will also help your computer connect to a Wi-Fi Hotspot.

6.The best place to keep informed of all the various options is at the website: __________________________________

Ends at 52:59 Complete Playlist of What Does This Button Do shows.

How do I connect to Internet while traveling?

There are 3 wireless technologies for connecting to the Internet, Wi-Fi, Satellite, and Cellular. Most of us already have a smartphone with a cellular connection to the Internet. You can browse the web right on your phone. If you want to share your phone’s connection and use a WiFi only tablet, or a laptop computer, you can turn the phone into a WiFi hotspot. Here are some tutorial videos that will teach you more. These require a membership unless you see the word *Free at the end

If you’re traveling by RV in the United States, there is a LOT to know about the equipment and the services available for Internet Connections. We highly recommend the website: RVMobileInternet.com

Internet in Cuba

We took an educational tour of Cuba in December, 2015. We knew that Internet might not be available much in Cuba, but what we learned is a defining characteristic of Cuban life, the US embargo, and a communist government. Cuba has one of the lowest rates of Internet access in the world. See this Yahoo Tech article: Cuba Unplugged: An Island Still Stuck in Airplane Mode

To be fair, we had decent WiFi in our hotel in Havana, the Havana Libre. We paid our $5 to get a password that would allow us to be online with one device for one hour. We actually used that to connect our cute little Hoo Too travel router – then both Jim’s phone and my Chromebook could connect to the our own personal hotspot created by the Hoo Too. Pretty cool. If this is of interest to you in your travels, here’s a link:

The hotel’s WiFi hotspot was on the 2d floor, period – no access in your room. We were pleasantly surprised at the speeds. Nowhere near as fast as what we’re used to, but much better than we’ve experienced on cruise ships. There was one weird thing – we could not access our PayPal account. Access Denied! I thought maybe it was blocked by the government so as not to allow transfers of funds – and that may be the reason – but we were able to access our regular bank accounts with no problem. And, we seemed to have full access to any social media sites we wanted, like Facebook.

Our phones were working and Verizon greeted us with this message when we got off the plane

We did actually receive a couple calls and a couple texts during our stay in Cuba, but when we tried to answer the call, or reply to the text, it just didn’t work. We really don’t care about phone calls or texts, what we need is data – an Internet connection to manage our website and customer emails.

We saw people with smartphones everywhere, so we thought we’d investigate buying a local SIM card – like we did in Europe. Yes, indeed, we could purchase a SIM card with service from Cubacel. We were told the price was $40US – just for the card! Not for any service. We were still considering it – not that we NEED the Internet that much, we just consider it part of our job to do this research. But then we heard the final bad news – “Oh No Señor, there’s no Internet here!” only voice and text. The cell towers in Cuba are only 2G. You need 3G or 4G for data/Internet.

Wow! So, what were all these people doing with iPhone and Android devices? Just voice and text? We learned that just outside the hotel, on a street known as the Rampa because it runs like a down ramp to the sea, there is a public WiFi hotspot. You need to purchase an access code for $2-3/hour. So that’s what all these people were doing, sitting on the walls next to the sidewalk, they were accessing their emails, Facebook, and using Skype to make calls to the US. But as soon as they leave the immediate area of the hotspot … Internet gone. They really have no idea what these phones can do since they so rarely have an Internet connection.

No signs were necessary to find where the local WiFi hotspot was!

Other than the hotel, the Rampa, and the town square in Cienfuegos, we saw no way to get Internet in Cuba. We learned that the people do not have Internet access in their homes at all. One reason is the US embargo. Here is the map that we were shown during our US-Cuban relations lecture that shows all communications lines that go under the ocean bypass Cuba by law (except one from Venezuela.)

A submarine cable map drawn from Global Bandwidth Research Service. Click to go to the source map.

Although the US Embargo definitely limits the communication, the Cuban government also has something to do with it. According to this article from the Economist, in 2009 the Obama administration authorized American companies to provide internet services to the island but the Cuban government wasn’t interested.

If you followed the events that led up to the re-opening of the American Embassy in Cuba you know that there was an exchange of prisoners between US and Cuba. The Cuban prisoner was a man named Alan Gross – they say he was in a Cuban prison for being an American spy, but do you know what he was doing? Installing equipment for Internet access!!

We have a passion for learning history! We just had to take a selfie in front of the recently re-opened US Embassy in Havana.

We learned that people who are desperate for Internet information have formed a type of  ‘sneakernet’ called The Package. Someone with Internet access at a business collects a Terabyte of data from various websites and saves it to DVDs or maybe external hard drives? Then they charge $2/week to distribute this “package” to those who want it. $2 may not sound like much, but when a government worker (and most all Cubans are government workers) typically makes $20-30/month, that’s a lot of money. A neighborhood might pass the package around and share the cost. I think I also heard this referred to as an IntRAnet. Here’s an NPR story on the Cuban Internet Package. Here’s another story about how young people are forming Internet ventures in spite of the obstacles.

We were only totally without connectivity for 4 days –  I kind of enjoyed it. My phone was still in my hand most of the time, because it was my camera, and my note taker. I also wrote a few emails, knowing they would get sent as soon as we were back in the States. But, generally not worrying about email or business was nice for a few days. I’m sure going to pay attention to increased Internet access in Cuba though. We would love to go back and spend much more time someday – but we need Internet for that.

Speaking of my phone as my camera – I think I’ll end with this little movie put together by Google Photos from pictures on my phone. And, remember, there’s lots more pictures where these came from: Google Photos Album on Cuba Trip


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