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Travelling with the Surface 3 - Lessons Learned

Rhadamanthus

New Member
The Surface 3 is the perfect size for travel. It is thin and light enough to fit in a carry-on bag. It has everything that I need in a computer while I travel for a year with my family. Like most devices the Surface 3 has an on-board WiFi network adapter. This is just what you want when you are travelling so you can backup up your photos on the cloud, stay in touch via email, do internet banking and update a travel blog. Too bad the network adapter only works some of the time and is only designed to work with some routers in foreign countries.

After a few weeks of use I could not connect to any WiFi networks. I could only get a "Limited Connection" to any network and could not get internet access. I uninstallled the adapter and rebooted, the adapter was detected and re-installed but still failed to work. After talking to MS support for two hours on my Android phone I resolved the issue by doing a system restore. I have now been travelling with my Surface 3 for about three months now and have had to do about 4 system restores to resolve the network issue.

The other issue with the network adapter didn't show up until we were staying in an apartment in Thailand. My Surface 3 did not detect the WiFi network in our apartment at all. I could see other networks just fine. I then tried my Android phone (Galaxy S5) and I was able to see the network instantly and connect to it with no problem. I ran a WiFi analyzer app on my phone and noticed the WiFi was using channel 13. In North America only channels 1 through 11 are used for WiFi. However in Europe and other parts of the world channels 1 to 13 may be used for routers. Again I had to contact Microsoft Support via my Android phone. I told them about the router channel but they had me uninstall/re-install the adapter and reboot to no avail. I messaged MS Support on Facebook and got a response back saying that North American devices are regulated and can only use WiFi channels 1 to 11. That's it. No other options or work-arounds were offered.

So frankly I'm a little disappointed and more than a little pissed off to be told by Microsoft that the Surface 3 that I bought specifically for travel is really only designed to work in North America and that they went out of their way to make sure it would not work with WiFi networks in other countries.

I found posts from others with the same issue and it appears that there was a registry tweak you could do to enable the other channels but apparently Microsoft 'fixed' that with one of their Service Packs, so that is no longer an option. Luckily my phone (Galaxy S5 Canada version) that I bought in Canada will read channel 13 WiFi just fine. Same goes for my Nexus 7 and my kids IPod 3's. All these devices work just fine with WiFi channel 13, but not the Surface 3. If it was truly a regulatory issue I would have thought that Samsung, Google and Apple would have to adhere to the same regulations.

And so my work around for using a Microsoft Surface 3 for travelling is to use my Galaxy S5 phone to connect to the WiFi network. I can then enable USB tethering on my phone and connect it to my Surface 3 via a USB cable.

So there you have if you want to travel with a Surface 3 make sure you have a really good phone that is not designed by Microsoft that supports Wifi channels 1 to 13 and supports USB tethering.

Below is the message I got from MS:
North American Surface devices have had this, as designed, since the beginning. You can see an explanation in this thread from 2013:
http://surfac.ms/steaOH


Please add your feedback and concern in the thread [URL]http://surfac.ms/mH9k0B[/URL]
 

mfgillia

New Member
Interesting problem - I live mostly in Taiwan, brought my Surface 3 in the U.S. and travel around Asia. Haven't had any problems connecting to wifi routers so far.
 

CDG

Member
I just came back today after traveling for three weeks in India.

Stayed in hotels and B&B. No problems connecting to wifi in any of these and also at airports.

I also bought my Surface 3 for ease of travel with it.
 

kristalsoldier

Well-Known Member
I have also been traveling extensively with the S3 (and my SP3) and thus far have not faced this limited connection thing. My travels have taken me across Asia, Europe and North America. My S3 I bought in the UK while the SP3 I bought on the day it was released in North America (Canada to be precise).
 

surface5566

New Member
For each of you who said it works for you, you were just being lucky. Taiwan is a US colony and uses the same Wi-Fi bands as the US; while UK like most of the world uses channels 1-13. It's extremely annoying to travel with the US/Taiwan version of Surface in Europe because it only works in about 50% of hotels!

I assume all of this was caused by the FCC regulation earlier this year requiring manufacturers to block users from hacking Wi-Fi devices. But I have no idea the FCC rules the world, and how in the hell Microsoft should apply this stupid "fix" to my Taiwan version of Surface 3.

This is a massive fail from Microsoft. I think the only reliable workaround here is to buy a USB Wi-Fi card, and make sure not to touch any Microsoft hardware in the future.
 

jnjroach

Administrator
Staff member
For each of you who said it works for you, you were just being lucky. Taiwan is a US colony and uses the same Wi-Fi bands as the US; while UK like most of the world uses channels 1-13. It's extremely annoying to travel with the US/Taiwan version of Surface in Europe because it only works in about 50% of hotels!

I assume all of this was caused by the FCC regulation earlier this year requiring manufacturers to block users from hacking Wi-Fi devices. But I have no idea the FCC rules the world, and how in the hell Microsoft should apply this stupid "fix" to my Taiwan version of Surface 3.

This is a massive fail from Microsoft. I think the only reliable workaround here is to buy a USB Wi-Fi card, and make sure not to touch any Microsoft hardware in the future.
I carry a small travel router since most Hotels also have Ethernet. I've used it globally including Europe, UK, India, the Middle East and South Africa.
 

mfgillia

New Member
For each of you who said it works for you, you were just being lucky. Taiwan is a US colony and uses the same Wi-Fi bands as the US;
Uh, no. Taiwan is not a US colony. My Surface 3 has also recently worked seamlessly in Hong Kong and Shanghai both in hotels and public wifi networks (e.g., HK Airport).
 

stammie

Member
Is this a hardware limitation in the wifi aerial in the Surface or a software enforced one?
I'm wondering if its the latter could you change your region settings to a European one then see if you can download different firmware from MS to that which you currently have?
Its probably not this simple just a thought that occured to me.
 

kristalsoldier

Well-Known Member
For each of you who said it works for you, you were just being lucky. Taiwan is a US colony and uses the same Wi-Fi bands as the US; while UK like most of the world uses channels 1-13. It's extremely annoying to travel with the US/Taiwan version of Surface in Europe because it only works in about 50% of hotels!

I assume all of this was caused by the FCC regulation earlier this year requiring manufacturers to block users from hacking Wi-Fi devices. But I have no idea the FCC rules the world, and how in the hell Microsoft should apply this stupid "fix" to my Taiwan version of Surface 3.

This is a massive fail from Microsoft. I think the only reliable workaround here is to buy a USB Wi-Fi card, and make sure not to touch any Microsoft hardware in the future.
Wow!!!! Taiwan is a US colony? Which world are you living in? And, as for the WIFI band etc., I bought my SP3 in Canada on the day it was released in the market and have been using it since in the UK (and other places in the world) with zero issues.
 
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Reds2011

New Member
This is a massive fail from Microsoft. I think the only reliable workaround here is to buy a USB Wi-Fi card, and make sure not to touch any Microsoft hardware in the future.
Speaking from experience, you would expect that option to work but it doesn't. I have a usb wifi dongle lying around which picks up my home network on Ch12 when attached to every device except my USA purchased SP3.

If you haven't had the problem it just means the wifi where you have travelled is not using those channels.
 
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