Using your laptop abroad

I have taken my laptop to the UK and to Spain, but I find that it is very slow when connected to the Internet. I don't have the same problem when moving around France and wondered if there was anything I could do about it. Does anyone else have the same problem or have any advice?


Thanks for your answer. So that's why Norfolk was good. I was the most frustrated in London and in Spain because I needed the connection for work.

Louise, I am a bit like Peter but entirely un-technical. I am just a long term user. Where Peter is above CERN, I spent years in Cambridge where the Mond Building is where a large part of many aspects of modern science happened. For us it was JANET (Joint Academic Network) well over 30 years ago with initially a few UK universities whilst other universities were still debating buying electric typewriters and many people still hand wrote anyway. That was all in computer language on old type screens, green type on black, at first relatively tiny files and no diagrams, tables or whatever. It became Euronet (European Network) and in time part of our own beloved International Network, which then simplified, black screens went, etc, as it became the Internet that is still developing.

So I take for granted things like, having lived in rural East Anglia, that because the University of East Anglia became highly sophisticated very early along with Essex, Leicester and a few others soon after, that the east of England is brilliant for the Internet, along with that big circle with Geneva roughly the centre point that Peter s within. Some countries, including the poorest, saw that part of their joining the modern world and prospering were aided by the technology whereas others like the USA allowed unbridled competition which means there are too many possibilities with a high risk you are in the wrong place by a couple of hundred metres without knowing it. Peter is right when he says it is awesome however that comes complete with nice surprises and anger making frustration. So, hope the ethernet works for you and does not introduce yet another frustration :-)

Thank you for your answer, that explains why it was fine in Norfolk but not in London. I will try the ethernet cable and see how it goes.

Thanks for the info. It seems to me that you're just up against the very variable capabilities that make up what is known as the Internet. On the planet as a whole, there is a vast number of ISPs (Internet Service Providers - FAIs, in French) and at any given point in time each one of them has a very large number of users each trying to use an even greater number of websites, as well as other Internet services, such as e-mail. Given that there is no single entity controlling all this, it is truly amazing that it works as well as it does. I have the greatest admiration for those who set up the methods by which it's all held together, both technically and commercially. As I live on top of CERN, almost literally, I've had the privilege to meet some of them. As a networking specialist, I do, however, realize the complexity and the scale of what is going on around the planet, and it is truly awesome.

All this means, however, that there are places, and times, where the "Internet" gets well and truly overloaded, as Brian has mentioned. I'm afraid that I don't know of any magic bullet which will somehow change the underlying facts. The speed of the pipe you're trying to use is limited by it's slowest link, and that's just part of the physical laws by which we all live. When I was still working, I used to tell 'managers', who wanted to throw 'resources' (normally money) at a problem, that there wasn't yet any way to get two women to produce one baby in only 4½ months. Your problem seems to run along similar lines.

Just occasionally, an improved Internet speed can be achieved by connecting your laptop to someone else's box (aka. 'router') by means of a direct 'ethernet' cable. I often travel with a relatively long one (20m.), as this does sometimes overcome the poor wifi installations in some situations. It's of little use in most hotels, but has been a blessing in some, where the 'wired' connection worked much better than the wifi. All seems to depend on the local set-up, and that's probably why you've experienced mixed, but generally disappointing, Internet performance when away from home.

Thanks for your answers. In the UK I am usually staying at friends or in a hotel and use their Wifi key, they usually have a box with one of the usual servers, but I had a better speed in Norfolk than in London. In Spain, I have tried it at a friends but gave up and had to use their computer and also in an internet café but I don't know what sort of connection they had. It was so slow (and in London) that it took ages to do anything for me but not for them. I heard that there was a way of speeding it up when abroad, which is why I asked the question.

I've carried a laptop about with work for quite some years. I have had knock out speeds in poor developing countries such as Viet Nam a decade ago and snail's pace in New York five years ago. There appears to be no uniformity whatsoever, even within some countries the degree of variance can be shocking. Think Peter describes the situation quite well and his closing sentence gets my agreement on what he is saying. There is no answer or magic formula.

Louise - Unfortunately you haven't mentioned what systems you have been using for connecting to the Internet. These vary enormously in speed, from the superfast fibre optical connection that some people have at home or at work, through variations in home systems using cable or ADSL networks. down to extremely slow dial-up systems, that were all that were normally available if you go back a few years. There are also connections, often using "dongles", via the mobile phone (GSM) networks.

Even if your computer is connecting via wifi, the wifi has to be connected to the Internet by one of these methods. This applies even if you're using a public wifi, such as in McDonald's or Starbuck's. Hopefully you could tell us how you connected in the different locations as otherwise it's a bit like asking why you were able to go at different speeds in your car without mentioning what kind of roads you were using.