Tag Archives: WiFi

PTJ 128 News: Rules, Regulations and Rude Suprises

It’s February, which is showtime for the Federal Communications Commission! As reported by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and several other news organizations, the FCC now proposes that the Internet be regulated like any other public utility.  A vote on the proposal by the full commission is scheduled for Feb. 26. While the F.C.C. is an independent agency, it takes action through a five-member commission vote.

Also in FCC news: The agency was just not having that petition from the Marriott Hotel chain to block Wi-Fi hotspots and other external networks that guests may be using for security and management reasons, so the hotel empire has withdrawn that request. Late last week, the agency updated its definition of what counts as the minimum benchmark for broadband speeds from a now-wimpy 4 megabits per second to 25 megabits per second for downloads. As The Consumerist blog points out, this reclassification could affect the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal, Earlier this week, the FCC also began to consider draft legislation that would stop state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that limit cities from deploying their own municipal broadband services to compete with national mega-providers.

amIt’s not just the FCC gearing up for new rules — the National Security Agency is getting some from the White House. The Obama Administration will now be requiring the NSA to delete irrelevant personal and private information of Americans and foreigners that the agency may accidentally grab during its big data sweeps. Note that this announcement comes the week before German chancellor Angela Merkel comes to visit.

Reddit has published its first Transparency Report detailing government requests for information on its users. According to the company’s tally, it handed over information for 58 percent of all government and civil requests, and 64 percent of all US state and federal government requests.

The White House also released its budget request for the fiscal year 2016, which included a half-billion dollar bump for NASA. The budget, which allocates a total of $18.5 billon dollars to the space agency, allows for continued development on the Orion mission and the 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. There’s also $30 million dollars set aside the development of a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons and possibly a place to host alien life.

europa

The Comcast Customer Service department is back in the news, not horribly long after last year’s incident when an aggressive company rep basically refused to let a man disconnect his cable service. This time, a customer reported that a Comcast employee had changed the name on his bill to a rather descriptive and obscene moniker after the man’s wife tried to cancel the cable to save on monthly bills. This prompted other Comcast customers to come forward with their own reports of name changes In response to the original incident, Comcast published a blog post last week called “Respecting Our Customers” that apologized for and said that the employee in question will no longer be working on behalf of Comcast. (Also in Big Telco and Customer Relations, Verizon Wireless said it plans to let its subscribers opt out of those invulnerable supercookies, or unique identifiers, that privacy advocates were so concerned about.)

If you’ve been thinking about getting into barebones computing, you may be excited to hear the Raspberry Pi 2 is now on sale for the very reasonable price of $35. The little board is more just a toy — this generation of the tiny computer can actually run a version of Windows 10. Microsoft has been working with the Pi makers to create a compatible version of the operating system and invites interested parties to come register for the company’s Windows Developer Program for IoT.

rsRadio Shack seems to be headed over the financial cliff. As reported by Bloomberg News, the chain is said to be preparing a bankruptcy deal that would sell half its store leases to Sprint and shut down the other half. Bloomberg also reports that Amazon may be interested in picking up a few RadioShack locations to give the online company a little more brick-and-mortar action.

Tangerine, one of the most buzzed about movies at the recent Sundance Film Festival, was shot entirely on an iPhone 5S tricked out with the $8 Filmic Pro app, a Moondog Labs lens adapter and some external audio gear. And  Vine has introduced a new simplified version of its six-second looping video app called Vine Kids .

For the map lovers — Google Earth Pro is now free. This premium version of Google Earth used to cost $400, but now you can get the exclusive data layers and advanced measuring tools of Google Earth Pro for zero dollars. The Big G has also added Google Now info cards for about 40 different apps. (Google, in addition to all the other things it’s been working on lately, is also recreating human skin — will they call it Google Flesh?)

puffs1And finally, while we’re on the topic of medical research: Mark Shrime, a medical researcher at Harvard, wondered about the factual content of articles published in medical journals. So he decided to run a little experiment and used gibberish produced from www.randomtextgenerator.com to produce text for a fake article titled entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs? The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals,” authored by Pinkerton A. LeBrain and Orson Welles. According to Fast Company magazine, he submitted the article to 37 journals in a two-week period and at least 17 of them have accepted it. Most wanted a $500 “processing” fee, so the “call for papers” here is clearly referring to those infamous small green pieces of paper that make the world go ’round. But, hey, at least it doesn’t cost anything now to see the world spin in Google Earth Pro.

PTJ 127 News: Waze and Means

Microsoft reported its quarterly earnings this week and things were better than expected, thanks to big sales in cloud computing software, Nokia Lumia phones and Surface tablets — all that primetime product placement on network television finally paid off! While this was all good news, the company’s stock did drop 4 percent in after-hours trading that day, due to that big multicolored elephant in the room — Windows for the PC, which continues to lose ground in a mobile world. (Meanwhile, Apple’s earnings call revealed that the company sold a ton of new iPhone 6 models and that the Apple Watch is supposed to ship in April.)

fbfailFacebook and its sister site Instagram had a major outage this week, going offline Tuesday morning for about an hour. Facebook said the faceplant was due to an internal glitch and not the Lizard Squad hacking group, which posted vague claims of responsibility on Twitter. The sites for Tinder and Hipchat were also down around the same time, but came back without incident.

The Facebook mobile app can be a bit of a space and resource hog, but the company is slimming things down for that new crop of inexpensive Android smartphones aimed at emerging markets overseas. Facebook Lite, as it’s known, is less than one megabyte in size and designed to work even on slow 2G cellular connections.

The merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable still looms. While many advocates on either side of the deal have shared their views with the Federal Communications Commission, some of those views seem a little…familiar. As The Verge blog revealed after examining public records, several politicians who have sent in personally supportive letters praising Comcast’s business practices were actually sending in letters ghostwritten by Comcast communications specialists. Comcast said it was just helping to provide information on the pending deal.

Google’s  new wireless service in partnership with Sprint and T-Mobile may let your connection bounce around between WiFi or whichever wireless carrier has the strongest signal at the time. It won’t be ready for several months, though, but is said to be similar to a WiFi-heavy phone service called Freewheel from Cablevision,

googfiberGoogle also continues its push into high-speed fiber optic networks for residential use. In a post on the Google Fiber blog, the company announced that Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham would be joining Kansas City, Austin and Provo in the Gigabit Internet Club, which as we know, as speeds about 100 times faster than most normal broadband.

Snapchat and Twitter are trying to swim deeper in the revenue stream. Snapchat has begun to integrate content (with advertisements) from media companies like CNN, the Food Network and People magazine as part of the app’s Discover section. And Twitter’s blog announced this week that group Direct Messages and mobile video were rolling out. The new video feature — which is available in the Android and iOS apps — can record, edit and post short clips to your Twitter feed so all your followers can share the experience when 140 characters just aren’t enough.

If you’ve ever used the Waze traffic app to note the location of police cars on the highway, note that officials in the Los Angeles Police Department would like to shut down that part of the program. The LAPD fear the feature could be “misused by those with criminal intent to endanger police officers and the community.” No response from Waze-owner Google yet on the fate of the po-po button.

IoTsecurityAnd finally, the Federal Trade Commission just released a 71-page report that says companies making smart appliances and gadgets should monitor connected devices throughout the product’s entire life cycle, patch security holes, and grab the reins on how much personal data a device collects from the user. The FTC, which has filed complaints against companies before for things like lax security, also calls on Congress to pass new legislation like broader privacy protections for consumers and a National Data Breach Notification Law. Some industry think-tanks and at least two Republican lawmakers have raised issues with the report, saying basically that overregulation smothers innovation and jobs. Still, with reports of hacked baby monitors and other connencted devices becoming more frequent, forcing companies to secure their hardware and software doesn’t sound like too much to ask, y’know?

PTJ 117: Amazon Fires Up El Kaiser’s TV

It’s clear El Kaiser is quietly amassing a collection of streaming set-top boxes that may one day rival his tablet collection. On this week’s episode he gives us his impressions of the Fire TV, Amazon’s flagship media consumption device and his latest gadget acquisition.

Also on this week’s show J.D. helps us keep an eye on our monthly mobile device’s data allowance .

In the news President Barack Obama urges the FCC to keep the Internet open; Alibaba rakes in billions on “Singles Day”; Facebook’s Messenger app is now being used by 500 million people; NASA rents out some space; high-level corporate executives get there computers hacked into over hotel WiFi; Microsoft Office is free tablets and phones; and DARPA works on computer code that writes itself.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Read Your Meters

We love our devices, but do we use them too much? Do you find yourself constantly blowing by the monthly data allowance from your wireless carrier, or filling up your phone or tablet’s available storage all too quickly? Yes, some day our gadgets will be bigger, stronger and faster. For now, though, both Android and iOS have some built-in usage trackers that just may help you keep tabs on your gadget.

Android
android data
If you’re on a monthly 3G/4G data plan, log into your cellular account for exact numbers on your monthly allowance. But to get a quick rough estimate of how much data each of your apps has been pulling down off the Internet, get to your Settings area. This varies by version, but on a Kit Kat (4.4) tablet, swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen to open the Quick Settings box and then tap Settings. Under Wireless Internet, tap Data Usage to see which apps are the greediest when it comes to your Internet (WiFi and cell) connection. You can even set up safeguards to stop you from going over your data limits with your cellular carrier.

android appsIf your Android device is feeling a little full and you want to see how much of your storage is filled with various types of files, tap the back arrow at the top of the screen next to Data Usage. This takes you a step back to the main Settings screen. Under Device, tap Storage to see how much available space you have left, what kinds of files are filling up your used space, and how much each of those files types is taking. It’s not a zoom shot of your device, but it gives you an idea.

iOS
iphone data use
For those cellular equipped iPhones and iPads, you can always log into your user account to see the current state of your cellular usage. You can also get a rough estimate by tapping the Settings icon on the Home screen, tapping Cellular and flicking down the screen to the Data Usage area. Here, you can see your current cellular-data usage, and also which apps are the biggest hogs. Tap the buttons to prevent specific apps from grabbing data when you’re on a 3G or 4G connection and make them wait for WiFi.

iphone dataWant to see what apps are taking up the most room on your maxed-out iOs gadget? Tap the Settings icon on the Home screen, choose General and then Usage. In the Storage area, you can see you much you have used up and how much is available space. Tap Manage Storage to see precisely which apps are grabbing the biggest chunks of space. Tap an app name to get a Delete option. You can also just eliminate certain files, like those outdated Elementarys from the Videos app.

No matter which mobile platform you use, it’s not a bad idea to periodically check your usage stats, just to make sure your apps are behaving themselves with your Internet connection. It can be educational — and you may also be surprised to learn just how much time you spend posting and reading Facebook.

 

PTJ 104: Internet Security? No Such Thing.

This week cybercriminals made off with billions of usernames and passwords from hundreds of thousands of websites around the world and El Kaiser was, not surprisingly, more than a little upset about it.  Sensing Pedro’s imminent panic attack, J.D. cheers him up with a segment on how to buy a new gadget at its peak of freshness.

In other news,  the Rosetta probe from the European space agency has caught up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko; The Shaknado sequel is a hit on TV and on social media networks;  it is once again legal to unlock your mobile phones; the Department of Transportation considers banning cellphone voice calls on commercial flights; Google helps law enforcement apprehend a pedophile; researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology develop an algorithm that constructs an audio signal from a video based on vibrations; and concerned Facebook users called 911 and the Los Angeles’s Sheriff’s Department after the social media behemoth suffers a short outage.

No, we are not kidding.

PTJ 104 News: Hack ‘n’ Sack

Here we go again — Internet Security Freakout! The New York Times reported late on Tuesday that a Russian gang of cybercriminals made off with 1.2 billion usernames and passwords from 420,000 websites around the world, (as well as 500 million email addresses), all with botnets and malware. The Milwaukee-based company Hold Security discovered the stolen data, but wouldn’t say which websites were affected due to confidentiality agreements with its clients. (Not helpful to the rest of us, Hold Security.)

Although snagging credentials off compromised websites was one big way the infohaul was reeled in, a few online observers have suggested that the Russian gang may have also bought chunks of the stolen data from other hackers. This may mean some of the information may be old and out of date, especially after the Heartbleed panic earlier this year when responsible folk went and changed all their passwords then, too. Other sites, like The Verge, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes have noted Hold Security was awfully quick to capitalize on the heist. (The Washington Post took a look at Hold Security itself and had some interesting observations.)

So what can you do to protect yourself? No one knows yet exactly which websites were affected, so let’s just assume it was All of Them. The Times posted some tips for dealing with the breach, so start there. And it may be time to break down and get a password-manager programs like LastPass or 1Password,  as this sort of Massive Data Protection FAIL  is unfortunately starting to become a regular occurence.

For happier news, we go to outer space, where the Rosetta probe from the European space agency has finally caught up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a 10-year chase. Rosetta is now orbiting the comet and sending back photos, and yes, the pictures are on its Facebook page — or rather the European Space Agency’s Facebook page. Good hunting, Rosetta!

sharknado2Sharknado 2: The Second One, the sequel to last year’s unexpected pop-cult powerhouse, grabbed 3.9 million viewers on its original airing last Wednesday on the SyFy Channel and dominated trending topics lists. The film reportedly delivered one billion mentions in Twitter conversations throughout the day of its broadcast. The cameo-filled sequel was set in New York City and another sequel is on the way.

Some more good news: It’s now perfectly legal once again to unlock your mobile phone from the carrier you bought it from, so you can use it with another company’s compatible network after your contract runs out.  President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act on August 1st.  In other government-and-phones news, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Department of Transportation is considering a rule to ban cellphone voice calls on commercial flights to, within and from the United States. Here’s hoping!

In other law-enforcement matters, Google recently alerted authorities to illegal images in the account of a particular Gmail user after illegal child-pornography images were detected during an automatic scan. Google had discussed its efforts in stopping child porn with London’s Daily Telegraph last year, but the news of the arrest got some privacy advocates worried about what companies can do with your mail. (Google said this is the only crime it scans for in Gmail.) In addition to its own VideoID software, Google and other companies also use Microsoft’s PhotoDNA and Friend MTS’s Expose F1 forensic programs to scan for photos and videos depicting abuse.

 

It’s the height of summer and the hackers are gathering in Las Vegas for their annual Black Hat and DEF CON conventions. Black Hat started last weekend, and in addition to a demonstration about how USB devices have huge security issues, another consultant was preparing to show how the satellite communications gear on passenger gets could be hacked by going through the aircraft’s in-flight entertainment and onboard WiFi systems.

bhc

Meanwhile, another presentation at the conference dealt with spoofing signals in wireless key fobs to unlock cars. Corporate America, please pay attention, okay? That includes you, Wearable Computing Developers. That’s because the security firm Symantec got itself a $75 Raspberry Pi computer and wrote up a blog post describing how easy it is to track people with fitness monitors and other wearable tech through wireless protocols and other security holes in the apps and software.

Prawn-CocktailAlgorithms are everywhere. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology just announced that some of its researchers, along with scientists from Microsoft and Adobe, developed an algorithm that accurately reconstructs an audio signal from a video based on vibrations. In one experiment, the researchers were able to reconstruct intelligible speech from a potato-chip bag filmed 15 feet away from the camera and through soundproof glass.

The CEO of Verizon Wireless threw shade at the chairman of the FCC over a letter the agency sent to Big Red expressing concern over treatment of customers with unlimited plans. In a blog post, Verizon had outlined what it calls its Network Optimization policy, in which bandwidth for heavy users is scaled back during peak times on overcrowded sites. Verizon 3G hogs have been “optimized” for years, but the FCC only spoke up when the company recently announced it was also going to start throttling 4G LTE users this fall. Among other points in its rebuttal, Verizon said its practices were consistent with the reasonable network management definitions laid out in the 2010 Open Internet Order and other companies were doing the same thing. So there.

Comcast, which has not had a lot of good press lately, announced this week that it will be providing up to six months of free Internet access to low-income families as part of its Internet Essentials program. Requirements for the program include being in an area where Comcast has service and having at least one child eligible for the National School Lunch Program.

Let the frothing begin: the Re/Code site is now reporting that Apple’s iPhone 6 event will be on September 9th.  

And finally, as millions noticed last Friday, Facebook suffered a major site outage. During this time, some concerned Facebook users called 911 and the Los Angeles’s Sheriff’s Department. Others took a more thoughtful approach and used the outage as an opportunity to study  Web traffic. The Chartbeat blog found that Web traffic to news sites dropped 3 percent and showed how social media drives visitors to other sites. The countries affected by the outage included the United States, India and Chile, so it did not seem to be a worldwide crash.

911

That may seem like a big dent, but compare it to last year when Google took a dive: experts said world Internet traffic dropped by 40 percent. So in addition to keeping your password-manager program at the ready these days, you may also want to pack a book for those times when various parts of the Net are down. And don’t pester 911 because Facebook or Google crashing IS NOT AN EMERGENCY. Just think of it as an offline disco nap and take a break.

PTJ 98: Amazon Starts Another Fire and Security on The Go

David Perry, now a threat strategist for the international computer-security firm F-Secure, joins us on this week’s episode to discuss the current state of mobile security. Interested in testing out F-Secure’s one-button Freedome app on your Android device or iPhone? Check it out here, as well as a short message about privacy from The Hoff himself.  And a big thanks to Jocelyn Gonzales for recording this segment for us at the Heartland Brewery in Times Square.

El Kaiser takes another listen to Bowers& Wilkins C5 in-ear monitors and admits he got it all wrong the first time around.

In the news, Amazon launches their long rumored smartphone; Google lists which mail providers encrypt messages in transit; The United States government lifts restrictions on just how detailed satellite images can legally be; the U.S. Department of Transportation looks to regulate those navigational smartphone and tablet apps in moving vehicles; Facebook changes its personal-data collection policy; The Museum of Modern Art adds an iPad app to its permanent collection; and the Unicode Standard thousands of new characters, including several hundred new emoji.

PTJ 98 News: Earth, Wind and Fire

That Amazon 3D smartphone first revealed in April by the Boy Genius Report blog has now been officially announced: It’s called the Fire smartphone, and let’s hope it never has an overheating battery problem. As it did with Apple’s original iPhone back in 2007, AT&T has emerged as the exclusive carrier for the phone. Amazon’s innovative new phone was developed at its secret hardware headquarters in Silicon Valley, Lab126, according to a report on the Bloomberg Businessweek site. On the software side of the news, Amazon also released its Prime Music service last week that brings unlimited ad-free music streams to Amazon Prime subscribers.

Speaking of Android, the Ars Technica site has posted a history of Google’s mobile operating system, tracing the evolution of Android 0.5 back in 2007 to the current state of chocolatey KitKat Android 4.4. Google itself is on a campaign for safer email and released a new section of its Transparency Report earlier this month showing which major mail providers encrypt messages in transit.  The company also released an early version of its new End-to-End encryption tool for its Chrome browser that uses OpenPGP to scramble messages until they’re decrypted.

loon

Google’s high-flying effort to bring Wi-Fi to underdeveloped parts of the world is taking off. Project Loon, as it’s called, had successful test runs in places like New Zealand and parts of rural Brazil, as detailed on a Google+ page devoted to the South American endeavor. In addition to calculating wind data and enhancing balloon design to make them more efficient, the project team also had to deal with dramatic temperatures, dripping humidity and scorpions.

skyThe United States government is lifting restrictions on just how detailed satellite images can legally be, and at least one company, DigitalGlobe, will be selling even better snaps from the sky soon, with much sharper pictures taken from oh high. (Please stop scowling at the camera, privacy advocates.)

Back here on Earth, satellite imagery is often used in modern map apps, and the U.S. Department of Transportation would like to regulate those navigational smartphone and tablet apps in moving vehicles.  Congress is expected to debate the proposed legislation, part of the GROW AMERICA Act, over the next few months and to possibly make a decision later this year, but given the recent Congressional track record for getting much of anything done besides creating hot winds, we’ll believe it when we see it.

Meanwhile, another US government agency is looking into that little squabble between Netflix and Verizon over slow download speeds. Verizon is not alone, as Comcast and other ISPs are said to be under scrutiny as well. Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, issued a statement late last week on the matter.

Facebook went and changed its policy on personal-data collection from its users last week. Yes, the privacy advocates were not happy about that, either, with some yelling at the Federal Trade Commission for letting Facebook get away with it. Facebook announced the changes on its company blog and says it will now pull in information about other websites you have browsed and use that data to calculate what ads to serve you. Lifehacker, PC Magazine, VentureBeat and many other sites have already posted instructions on how to opt out of Facebook’s web-history snooping.

The folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are also concerned with transparency and how someone’s private data is used by others. They’re working on a new tool dubbed “HTTP with Accountability,” or HTTPA, which will automatically monitor the transmission of private data and allow the data owner to examine how it’s being used. The new protocol will be outlined in a paper presented a security conference in July.

In entertainment news, The Museum of Modern Art has added the first iPad app to its permanent collection. It’s Biopihlia, a musical app with interactive graphics and animations developed in part by Björk Gudmunsdóttir, former Sugarcubes singer-songwriter and swan-dress model. The $13 app is available for Android and iOS.

pennysoloWe here at Pop Tech Jam would like to wish Harrison Ford a speedy recovery from his accident on the set of Star Wars VII last week. Mr. Ford is expected to be off the set for up to 8 weeks while he heals from a broken ankle suffered when a hydraulic door from the Millennium Falcon reportedly fell on him.   The Falcon is still apparently the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, including when its parts pop off.

And finally, the Unicode Standard is getting an update to Version 7.0 and bringing with it a whole bunch of new characters — 2,834 of them to be exact. Unicode 7.0.0 supersedes all previous versions of the standard and now includes things like currently symbols used in Russia and Azerbaijan and 23 new lesser-used and historic scripts for written languages around the world. It also includes about 250 new Emoji, those little cartoony pictographic symbols common in text messages. The new Emoji include several hand gestures including 1F596 – RAISED HAND WITH PART BETWEEN MIDDLE AND RING FINGERS, also known as the Vulcan salute, and 1F595 – REVERSED HAND WITH MIDDLE FINGER EXTENDED, a more offensive gesture commonly referred to as the One Finger Salute. Can’t imagine who might find use for that sort of thing in a text message…

PTJ 93: Now With More Pop!

This week we really do put the pop in the Pop Tech Jam and debut a new single from singer and multi-instrumentalist Mario Ceara. Yes, Mario is El Kaiser’s nephew but don’t let that stop you from listening. He comes from the side of the Kaiser clan with real talent!

Mario recorded and produced his single on his laptop using software and peripherals that have made it possible for musicians to quickly and professionally produce music and make it available to their audience at lightning speed.

J.D. is back from her secret mission to parts unknown with some tips on how to stay connected with your smartphone while traveling overseas without breaking the bank.

In the news, new rules on Net Neutrality have generated quite a bit of a backlash; the European Union Court of Justice has ruled that people have a right to be forgotten on Google; Microsoft released a cheaper version of its Xbox One and may also be gearing up to launch a music locker service for the console;  Apple’s $3.2 billion looks to buy Beats Electronics; And Twitter has announced a new “Mute” feature that lets you temporarily turn off the tweets.

Room to Roam

Traveling overseas often used to mean being cut off from your mobile phone number because your handset wouldn’t work in another country — or because you didn’t want to pay exorbitant roaming charges just to check mail or take a call from a friend while you were on a foreign wireless carrier’s network. Remember all those early iPhone horror stories when users would come home from gadding about Europe only to find their phones had been automatically checking mail on international networks and racking up the charges? A $3,000 phone bill is not the “Welcome Home” notice most people prefer.

Thankfully, things have gotten better in the travel department. If you have a trip abroad planned and want to stay in touch with friends here and there via mobile device, you have more connectivity options besides clinging to hotel WiFi, swapping in SIM cards or investing in a cheap pay-as-you-go burner phone.

All four of the major US carriers have international plans for phones and tablets to add onto your current service. (International roaming, not to be confused with international long distance, means your device works when you are using it in another country, not using it to call another country from home.)

Prices and services vary by carrier, but check out the offerings from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon. On AT&T, for example, you can add 30 minutes of voice on one of the company’s overseas partner network for $30. Note, however, that you will typically get charged for incoming calls and those that go to voicemail, so your minutes may disappear more quickly than you anticipated.

As another example, T-Mobile’s aggressively priced $50 Simple Choice plan gives you unlimited talk, text and data on its own network and unlimited international text and data in 120 countries, with voice calls 20 cents a minute. T-Mobile, as they say, is bringing it.

Data plans are also available if you want to text or keep in touch through email. For example, if you have a cellular-equipped iPad and AT&T, you can get 120 megabytes of data on AT&T’s International Plan for $30 — which may be enough for a week’s worth of email service and Facebook check-ins between WiFi stops while you and your tablet are touristing.

Whichever carrier you use, check its website for information on global services; Apple’s site also has a list of suggestions for iPhone and iPad travelers. Some carriers make it easier than others to sign up, but most sites have data calculators and other tools (like Verizon’s Interactive Trip Planner) online to help you make decisions on what you need. Just remember, if you add services to your current voice or data plan on any device, check to see if you need to turn off those services after you get back —  or if the travel plan self-terminates.

With AT&T, you can sign up for the international plan right on the iPad, although you need to do it before you go. If you are an AT&T customer, check out the company’s international travel guide and page of data roaming tips. Verizon Wireless has its own checklist (and info for iPad owners) and both T-Mobile’s page o’ roaming questions and Sprint’s FAQ on the topic might be helpful if you use one of these carriers. Depending on your contract, some plans also give you access to your carrier’s WiFi hotspot network too.

pencaseKeep in mind that some mobile phones may not work overseas, particularly those that only use the CDMA technology. While Verizon and Sprint have traditionally used CDMA networks, you maybe be able to get a loaner handset from either Verizon or Sprint for your trip. Modern smartphones that use the GSM standard, like those offered by AT&T and T-Mobile, usually get along quite well in Europe.

Fiddling with your phone bill is not for everyone and the previous options like getting a cheap road mobile still stand. (And some people rather like going off the grid for a week because: vacation.) Still, for a little more cash, getting a temporary international plan does help you keep in touch with the world when you and the phone are roaming the globe.