Before I left for Argentina, I asked my waiter at an Argentinian restaurant in Amsterdam: “Why does beef from Argentina taste so much better than beef from everywhere else in the world?”. He responded: “Because we have free range cattle.” What I didn’t expect was that, along with all the free range cattle, urban areas of Argentina seem to be covered in free range Wi-Fi eminating from hotels, cafes, restaurants, and bars.
Argentina has very expensive data service. When I was researching whether or not to buy a local SIM card upon arrival in Argentina, or whether to purchase an international SIM card, I saw that data rates were around $20 per KB. As an experiment in offline smartphone travel, I decided to forgo the international SIM, and just see if I need a SIM card over the course of my trip. Besides, my phone can make emergency phone calls without any phone service!
When we first arrived in Buenos Aires late at night, our hotel was locked up and we were stuck on the streets of San Telmo hoping that someone would come to our help. While my husband banged on the door as loudly as he could, I pulled out my smartphone, selected one of the four unlocked Wi-Fi connections available on the street, emailed my host, and within minutes the door was opened with a smiling face and a bottle of wine awaiting us on the other side. I figured this was a hotel, and so its evident that there might be a lingering Wi-Fi connection or two.
But it was the same case across Buenos Aires. Virtually every cafe, restaurant, juice bar, and even boutique stores displayed a “Wi-Fi” sticker in the window. On the rare occasion that a passcode was required, your server could get you connected in seconds. I even managed to book a hotel for Mendoza while getting a pedicure using the salon’s advertised Wi-Fi connection.
We set off for the wilds of Patagonia, and while I enjoyed ample connectivity at the domestic airport in Buenos Aires, I had forgotten to write down the name of our hotel in El Calafate. The airport in El Calafate had no signals to speak of, not even locked signals, but as we drove into town I was relieved to again see Wi-Fi stickers on many storefronts. We sat down at a table in the sun, ordered a beer, and I managed to retrieve our reservation, plot the address in our map app, route directions, and then go offline with the window still open, directing us to our hotel. While Wi-Fi was restricted to urban areas of Patagonia only, I was still impressed that even our campsite on the outskirts of town had Wi-Fi.
This trend continued in Mendoza and Iguazu, and throughout our trip we never missed not having data service or phone service. The only time we needed to make a phone call, we were able to use a VoIP service, in this case Skype, to phone using a cafe’s Wi-Fi.
It’s very exciting to think of a world where people can access virtually free wireless internet everywhere. And while Wi-Fi in Argentina may be a business initiative to attract more clientele, it is still a step towards wider access to information for all, and a remarkable convenience for those travelling with any wireless device such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop.