Global Offgrid Journalism

South of France, Sunday, October 31

This story was uploaded to the website using Vodafone’s new Europe-wide 3G/GPRS data service. The Vodafone card fits into my laptop in the same way as a wireless network card, but instead of hooking up with a base station in the home or office, it roams the entire Vodafone network, including other sister services around the globe.

In most parts of the world, this gives a solo freelance journalist the same communication power that used to be reserved for Reuters correspondents with heavy-duty transportable satellite uplinks.
The laptop is an IBM ThinkPad, with power supply from a portable, fold-up solar panel from IDC Solar. By having four batteries for the laptop, I can work online for up to 8 hours. .
The Exponent Flex 5 is a foldable solar charger, the size of a paperback book that converts solar energy into trickle charge electricity. It’ll charge my PC slowly, but safely, and pretty well forever.

The Vodafone network card, fitted with a normal cellphone chip, first searches for nearby hotspots on the Vodafone 3G network, with very fast Internet speeds. If it cannot find one, it then dials up an Internet connection with Vodafone Mobile Connect. The normal dialup speed is 57.6 Kbps, easily fast enough to read emails and send normal-sized files.

The service is not cheap. If you are roaming, as opposed to using it in your home country, the price is 3.50-5 per megabyte, depending on which bundled service you bought. But that is enough for several hundred emails as long as you do not have a spam problem. Subscription charges vary between 10-85 per month, depending on your usage levels. The 20 pe rmonth service comes with 75MB of data included. Additional data costs 1.50 per MB in your home country and 5 if you are roaming.

The only drawback apart from the price, is a buzzing sound through the computer’s loudspeakers due to feedback from the network card. Turning down the sound on the computer rectifies this. But it does make listening to BBC Radio 4 a bit difficult in my mountaintop hideaway.

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