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Tech Savvy: Grid Down Part 3

Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! This week is part three, and we'll wrap everything up next week with a little bit more of a business focus. This week I am able to give you another example of a personal, or small scale, mobile connectivity option. Tha...

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Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! This week is part three, and we'll wrap everything up next week with a little bit more of a business focus.

This week I am able to give you another example of a personal, or small scale, mobile connectivity option. Thanks to our friends at Verizon Wireless I've been testing out their Jetpack hotspot in multiple locations including some in state parks, at lake cabins and, of course, a control right here in my home in Baxter.

Let's do a quick recap though, of why we're taking a look at devices like this, and why we took at a look at more than one device.

In the event of a major power outage or other property destroying disaster, an Internet connection can be vital to your ability to know if there is additional danger coming, where you can get supplies or find shelter. Many of us rely on our mobile phones, tablets or laptops to access the Internet, and in the event of a grid down situation it is important that these devices are functioning properly. One area we identified as a potential issue is if your tablet is, say, only Wi-Fi capable, or maybe you haven't made the leap to a smartphone yet and all you have is your laptop. Worst case scenario, maybe your mobile devices were lost in the confusion and you just have your laptop. In any event, not all mobile, and even smart, devices have mobile data so you need to establish a data connection.

This is where devices like the Verizon Jetpack come in incredibly handy. The Jetpack is essentially a portable Wi-Fi station you can take wherever you go. The 4000 mAh rechargeable battery is listed with a 20 hour usage time and, after putting it to the test, we achieved that performance with it before needing to recharge.

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The Jetpack runs on Verizon's 4G LTE network which as they have been recognized by J.D. Power and Associates as the highest ranking in wireless network quality across six major geographic regions. ( www.jdpower.com/press-releases/2015-us-wireless-network-quality-performance-study%E2%80%94volume-1). They measure things like dropped or unconnected calls, late messages, network connections and consistency, and rank major networks according to how well they score.

What's important to know from a consumer end of things is what is the service like in your area. The Jetpack runs on the same network that my Droid DNA and my iPad run on, so knowing that I have excellent reception, generally, means that I should be able to expect that from a hotspot as well. Do you need to necessarily buy a hotspot that has mediocre coverage all over vs a hotspot that has fantastic coverage where you live? Not really. Again, looking at a grid down situation, you want to be able to anticipate a disaster as best you can, so look at where the obvious choices you may be stranded when making your decision. I, for example, am in Minnesota 95 percent of my time and when I am it's rarely off a highway. There are the occasions where we are at the lake on vacation, or traveling to more remote areas, but realistically, the odds of me getting in a grid down situation are much higher at my home than they are if I'm on a business trip somewhere.

The Jetpack isn't large, about the size of a deck of cards and maybe just slightly thicker, but weighs in at only 4.74 ounces, so very lightweight. As I mentioned before, the sizable 4000 mAh battery keeps it up and running through a whole day, even when we had up to five or six devices connected at a time. The battery is recharged via micro USB cable, which is great because that's what my phone uses and is the universal standard (except Apple) for mobile devices.

One neat power saving feature that I noticed with this device that the others didn't do, was if there was no device connected to the hotspot it would turn itself off automatically after a period of time. Some may think it's an inconvenience to have to turn it on each time you want to use it, but in a grid down situation, the longer your devices can run on a single charge, the better off you are. Unless you have other devices you can use to recharge, like the BioLite Campstove or the Eton BoostSolar that I've reviewed, you may only have the one charge. With this feature you could feasibly go multiple days on a single charge if you were only using it for short periods of time to get information.

The device itself is easy to use, it has a full color display which is easy to read, it's not a touchscreen, which wasn't really a deal breaker, but it took a little getting used to. This is also a factor in the long battery life you can expect, so this is important to note. The instructions were easy to follow, and they are all housed on the device so you don't need to carry around a separate instruction manual.

Connectivity was very consistent, so much so that when I was having trouble sending an email with an attachment on my smartphone as soon as I connected it to the hotspot it went through. I know, I know, it's the same network so it shouldn't have mattered, however, the Jetpack, and other devices like it, can be equipped with stronger radios for reception and also have the benefit that you can place them in an optimal location and still have the freedom to move about with your phone.

Speed is always a question that comes up. In the spirit of this experiment I wasn't too keen on judging only on speed, but both speed and quality of signal. Because these devices run on the same networks as mobile phones, you do run the risk of saturation, where the more people you have on the network at the same time the more bandwidth you share, usually meaning you get slower speeds. In a grid down event, I would venture that more people will be on the networks as that will be one of the few options they will have.

My control group here in Baxter gave me an average download speed of 25 mbps, and an upload speed of of 6.5 mbps. I like this as a test because in Baxter we have more people on the network than the other places I tested. At the lake and on vacation we averaged about 7 mbps download and 6 mbps upload speeds. You won't be setting any records with those speeds, but of the demo units we had I got the fastest, most consistent, speed results.

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According to Verizon you can connect up to 15 devices to the Jetpack, which makes this more than what you need for most families, but this also gives you an option for smaller scale businesses if you need a go to source of internet in a power outage. In our case, we can utilize devices like these to help us to continue to bring coverage updates to the community via our website or social media, helping the community react or prepare for whatever we're dealing with. I really love the portability of the Jetpack, it's small and lightweight so you can carry it around without it becoming too bulky.

All in all, as part of a grid down preparation program, you will definitely want to consider how you are going to remain in contact with others, and one of these handy little devices may be just what you need to ensure you can outlast whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Thanks again to our friends at Verizon Wireless for lettings us push this thing to its limits, and don't miss out next week as we wrap up our tech outlook on disaster preparedness.

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