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Travel Tech: Smartphones’ Personal Hotspot Wi-Fi Saves Travelers Time, Money

By now, we’ve come to depend on our smartphones to be very smart, smarter than we are. They solve our every logistical conundrum: Where should we eat? (Yelp.) Where are you now? (Beluga.) Where am I? (Google Maps.) And a growing number of smartphones offer a new feature that cements these devices in the center of our lives: the personal hotspot, which turns the 3G connection into a Wi-Fi signal wherever you are. Any coffee shop. The airport. Your hotel room. A park bench. A park bench in London. Your campsite in Yosemite. A moving taxi. And with this feature comes a sense of relief that, finally, you will not need to hunt down a Wi-Fi signal to send an email, update the apps on your iPad, whatever. You are your own moving Wi-Fi zone.

For example, the long-awaited Verizon iPhone 4, which launched earlier this month, has this feature. Turn on the personal hotspot and you have a password-protected Wi-Fi zone for up to five devices. This mean your Wi-Fi-only iPad or tablet is suddenly so much more useful on the go. The 3G iPad, with its service fees, seems like overkill. Home Wi-Fi even seems unnecessary. Random Wi-Fi charges in airports and hotels are a thing of the past. Cut these to expenses from your life and you stand to save a good deal of money over time.

The personal hotspot means full flexibility to go wherever you want to go and do the things you need or want to do. Use it while lounging on a blanket in the grass in a shady grove in Central Park. Or on your train ride from New York to D.C. (no need to pay extra for the Acela, which offers Wi-Fi and a slightly faster arrival time). Or even in your taxi from the airport as you fire off the presentation you finished on your flight. (Note: International use of the personal hotspot depends on if your phone gets service in specific countries, so do your research before you travel.) Some campsites are already Wi-Fi enabled these days, but that consideration no longer matters with your own hotspot.

Some may grumble at the idea of technology enabling work to infiltrate our lives. But more and more, computers and the Internet represent so much more than work. They are where we catch up with friends, where we video chat with family, where we catch up on favorite TV shows and movies, or shop for deals on the shoes we love. That said, we admit that an old-fashioned, Internet-free escape is still one of life's great treasures.

The Verzion iPhone 4 is the first of the iPhones to have this feature, though it’s expected that the AT+T phone will soon catch up. Other smartphones offer this service, too. There’s usually a monthly fee to have the service. For the Verizon iPhone 4, it’s about $20 a month on top of the data plan. But considering that could be your only Internet fee, total, all month, it could create some hefty savings and improved peace of mind.