Travel Communications Tips: When Things Don’t Work

Reducing Internet During a Call

Internet voice phone calls (“Skype”) requires much better Internet than instant messaging.  Internet video requires much better Internet than voice.  So a quick and easy adjustment if Internet degrades during a call is to just use less of it.  Move from video to audio.  This will often make the audio work much better.  If it is still poor quality, move from audio to text.  Text almost always works if there is any Internet at all.  Most software supports doing these changes live right in the middle of a conversation.

Fallback Plans

Have fallback plans prepared ahead of time that everyone is aware of for how to continue a meeting if technology isn’t cooperating.  Examples:

  • Drop video and use only audio.
  • Drop audio and use only text messaging.
  • Switch from VSee to Skype.
  • Try again in an hour.
  • Try again at the same time tomorrow.
  • Send an email.

Rush Hour

It turns out that Internet often has a “rush hour”.  Internet providers oversell their maximum available bandwidth, just like airlines overbook flights.  Also, everyone on a compound can be struggling for the same limited resources.

During off peak hours, this doesn’t matter much.  However, during rush hour, it can have a dramatic effect.  Often when people on a compound talk about the Internet being bad or out, what is really going on is overloading of the connection.

Peak hours tend to be mid-morning and mid-afternoon until whenever people go to bed, so if the Internet is bad, try logging on late at night or early in the morning.  The difference in Internet performance can be dramatic.

Don’t Wake People Up

It can be difficult to schedule meetings when it is convenient for everyone. provides a great time-of-day meeting helper that makes figuring out when to hold a call easy:

The website also has many other travel-related features.

Use Your Built-in Hotspot

Android phones have a built-in wireless hotspot.  It can be found under “Settings|More|Tethering & portable hotspot”.  This can provide better Internet when the compound’s Internet is poor due to Rush Hour.  It can also provide Internet when it is not easily available in other ways.  (This is sometimes disabled on phones purchased from U.S. carriers.)

Buy an International Phone

In the United States, many phones are purchased directly from carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint).  These are often locked to only work with a specific carrier.  Carriers are required to unlock phones upon request once contractual obligations have been met.  The carriers do not make this easy from a customer-service standpoint.  These carrier-originated phones are only unlocked successfully about half the time, so test the phone with a friend’s SIM before traveling.

An easy solution is to simply purchase an “unlocked” overseas telephone.  Android phones available overseas often are significantly less expensive than similar models in the United States.  Alternately, some unlocked phones may be purchased from sources such as NewEgg.  Be sure to check the warranty to ensure that it covers US usage.

Internet Compass

The OpenSignal Android app, “3G 4G WiFi Maps & Speed Test”, provides an easy-to-use compass which points towards the nearest mobile phone tower.  If your reception is spotty, simply open the app and start walking in the direction which the compass points.  Your signal (& your Internet) will get better.

The OpenSignal website also provides a detailed map showing which carriers have good coverage in what physical locations.  It is crowdsourced automatically by the app, so it is continually updated with impartial data.  For example, looking at the map, it is easy to see which carrier has the best coverage for a particular village.

Increase Your Phone’s Battery Life

A typical Android smartphone has a battery life of about a week when in Airplane mode.

The following things all have a large negative impact on battery life:

  • Constantly using the screen with video, or games with lots of graphics
  • Apps with too many permissions which constantly send your data across the Internet
    • (Really, does a Sudoku game need access to your contacts & Internet?)
  • GPS
  • 3G or LTE
    • (Edge/2G is thrifty with batteries)
  • Roaming
  • Wifi

To get the best battery life, uninstall unused apps and keep the phone in Airplane mode whenever not needed for calling.