It’s 2AM outside of a Family Mart in Tokyo, and yours was a particularly grueling flight. The cold is binding your fingers together as you desperately try to connect to the ‘free’ WiFi and find directions to your hotel for the night. Finally, after bumbling through the multi-page registration process you hit ‘Register’. Almost there! The landing page instructs you to check and confirm the confirmation email in order to connect. How do you receive an email with no internet? *Facepalm
Clearly the system was not designed for you, nor is it in countries like China and the Philippines, which require local mobile phone numbers to connect to the majority of Free WiFi hotspots. You should have picked up a Travel SIM Card, for a few reasons:
The most compelling reason is not the most immediately obvious. Modern Mega-companies like google and facebook have defined a new commodity. It is economic, political, tradable and wildly valuable: your personal data. In this context, the biggest strength of public Wifi (that anyone can join) is also its biggest weakness (anyone can join). Free public WiFi is, sadly, particularly vulnerable to hackers, and the hacker that siphons your data is not necessarily the same person that hijacks and weaponises it against you. Often data from thousands of breaches is aggregated and sold in bulk to fraudsters to store for 1-2 years before finally compromising identities, hijacking credit and other nefarious activities.
This is also the reason Public Wifi providers do not feel compelled to invest in robust security infrastructure; it is difficult for them to be traceable/liable as the source.
Popping in a SIM Card enables a connection with the Network provider so your security is as good as theirs. Safe, and simple!
Public Wifi is not Ubiquitous
Sometimes running between different fixed WiFi checkpoints is a bit like being the loser team on Amazing Race. The problem with hotspots is that they have a limited range, and once McDonalds and Starbucks outlets give way to flowers and trees, staying connected becomes a distant dream.
Popping in a SIM means you are connected wherever you go; especially in countries like Japan with 99% Coverage.
They are Simple
SIMs are not the only option out there: portable wifi gizmos are great choice if you have multiple devices and you’re not likely to lose said gizmo. Free WiFi also has the benefit of being ‘Free’ (it could cost you in other ways) and of course the option to detox from technology completely has an alluring appeal.
SIMs have the comparable advantages of being easy to set-up, use (plug and play for most smartphones), cheap and reliable.
Bonus reason: SIMs can cave lives
Every year young Australian and French snowboarders take turns getting lost off-piste in the Japanese Alps. One family spent a harrowing night in a snowcave, and were rescued thanks to an SOS Facebook post, using a connected SIM Card.
Stay safe, stay connected. Simple!