Staying connected when visiting Taiwan

So you booked a flight to visit Taiwan, and besides eagerly anticipating eating all the great food and seeing the beautiful sights, there’s a nagging thought in the back of your mind: how do I stay connected while on this fabulous island? After all, you’d love to share the experience via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.

Free wifi welcomes visitors

Upon your arrival to Taoyuan International Airport, the primary air transportation hub of Taiwan, you’ll be able to enjoy free wifi at the airport. The speed isn’t very fast, just enough for emails and messaging.

Yet the Taiwanese government offers something even better: free wifi for 30 days (extension up to 90 days). Dubbed “iTaiwan” (愛台灣, or “Love Taiwan”) it is one of the first nationwide wifi projects in the world, benefiting both citizens and visitors. The free wifi is available at all government offices, public education institutions, most tourist attractions, major transportation hubs, and even some private businesses. Prior to your trip, register for access on the iTaiwan portal with your arrival date, nationality, email address, and passport number. Then after you set foot on Taiwan, turn on wifi on your device and search for SSID iTaiwan. Activate your account and to authenticate you will use your passport number as the login and birthdate (yyyymmdd) as password.

Access to iTaiwan will also allow you to roam other municipal wifi networks like TPE-Free, Tainan-WiFi, and TANet.

Free wifi can also be found at the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores. There’s one at about every corner in Taiwan, especially in the major cities. Look for SSID WIFLY and keep in mind that you may have to click through an ad to enable access.

WIFLY also provides free wifi service to several other stores on the island, such as Starbucks, Mos Burger, and Burger King. You can stay online for 30 minutes per session, just reconnect to surf longer.

Going local

If you have a longer stay and require a local number or want 24/7 4G mobile internet, then you’ll have to buy a SIM from one of four Taiwanese mobile carriers. Check the websites of Chunghwa Telecom (CHT), FarEasTone (FET), Taiwan Mobile, or T Star for prepaid options (unfortunately most are in Chinese). You can find stores fairly easily (the airport has Chunghwa, Taiwan Mobile, and FarEasTone kiosks), and they’re usually clustered near each other in cities. Remember that you’ll need two forms of identification (passport and driver’s license will do) as a visitor to buy a SIM. Mobile calls in Taiwan are charged differently between “in-net” (calls within the same carrier) and “off-net” (calls to a different carrier).

Unsurprisingly, these mobile carriers also operate wifi hotspots nationwide and sell prepaid wifi cards as well. Purchase wifi cards at their respective convenience store partners.

Lastly, you can rent a mobile hotspot but this is uncommon and probably a bit expensive. The plus side with this option is that it’ll provide Internet access for multiple devices, so it may be worth it for a whole family with several devices.

LINE is a verb

Here’s a tip for those on a longer stay: install LINE on your smartphone. Something like 80% of the population uses this messaging app. Businesses and government agencies use it. Your Taiwanese relatives all have it, and any new friends you make during the trip will ask for it. The app will let you make free LINE-to-LINE voice calls, too, but you’ll need fast and reliable wifi.

Surf securely

Never assume your data is safe when connected to public wifi, no matter where you are. Invest in a reliable VPN service, preferably one that has servers across the globe. Having VPN may also allow you to overcome online services with regional restrictions.

Final words

Taiwan carriers use GSM like most of the world, so if you plan to use your phone on the trip make sure it is compatible. Smartphones are very popular and most people have Android devices.

All the U.S. carriers offer international roaming if you like seeing money quickly disappear from your wallet. I wouldn’t even consider this option unless I’m spending three days or less in Taiwan.

It’s always good to have a Plan B, and that’s why I have Skype and Skype WiFi apps on my iPhone. Buy some Skype credits before the trip, and if no free wifi can be found then Skype WiFi can come to the rescue with its many roaming partners. It might cost something like $0.20 per minute, but could be useful in a pinch.

Enjoy your time in Taiwan, and please share your experience of staying connected during the visit!

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Tesla’s real gamble and innovation

On the night of March 31 Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Model 3 to great fanfare. Even before his announcement, Tesla stores all over the world saw long lines from fans willing to put down a $1,000 deposit to reserve an EV they have not yet seen. It’s a testament to the automaker’s brand and its success with the Model S and Model X cars. Perhaps also a testament to the public’s readiness to ditch fossil fuels?

Many have compared Musk to Steve Jobs and Tesla to Apple. Even the diehard crowds from yesterday remind people of the craziness surrounding an iPhone launch. Both CEOs and companies aim to make beautifully designed products to turn customers into brand loyalists.

But honestly, electric cars won’t be the near-term transformative technology from Tesla. Compared with other automakers, Tesla is a small fish in terms of sales. There’s no doubt that its products are unique, but even that will change soon as Big Auto pour tons of resources into developing their own EVs. In fact, General Motors’s Bolt will probably beat Tesla to the punch in terms of delivering an EV for the masses when it becomes available in early 2017. Last night Musk said he’s targeting late 2017 for the Model 3 to be delivered.

Besides, even if we intend 2017 to be “The Year of the EV,” it’s still unlikely that a few years later EVs will outnumber traditional gas-powered automobiles.

The real gamble and innovation behind Tesla is how it sells its cars: direct. No dealerships and no need to involve middlemen. In going with the Apple comparison again, it’s much like buying music straight from iTunes Store. With Apple, the iTunes Store was envisioned to help sell iPods, but it was so popular that it became a massive income generator. The consumer’s appetite for middlemen was clearly dwindling.

To Tesla, its cars are just hardware running software. It won’t be difficult for the company to create an online “Tesla Store” where you can buy upgrades or apps for your car. It already has the capability to deliver software upgrades wirelessly. In the not-so-distant future, you may be able to buy from Tesla an upgrade to go 0-60 in 4 seconds, or an app to enable AR display on the windshield.

The 200,000 (and counting) pre-orders of the Model 3 is quite an achievement for Tesla, but ultimately its success will be judged by the effectiveness of the direct-to-consumer approach. If successful then truly will it transform the automotive industry just as Apple’s iTunes Store changed the music industry forever.