Sunday, 19 February 2012

Can I buy pay as you go mobile broadband to use in Spain?

Does the thought of taking a Facebook holiday give you the shakes?

Whether you travel overseas regularly or are planning a one-off trip, broadband is a great way of keeping in contact with those at home or of finding local information while you're away.

But, as many have discovered, it can be an expensive business.

This guide asks 'how expensive?' and looks at ways to cut those costs.

Just continuing to use your ordinary 3G phone, microSIM or mobile broadband dongle abroad is the easiest way to get online. If only it was the cheapest...

Avoiding bill shock

You've probably heard some extortionate billing horror stories from holidaymakers before. If not, take a look at this £8,000 broadband bill.

It's an extreme example but thousands of UK travellers do get big bills and, just as in the case above, providers shrug their shoulders and say: 'we told you so'.


Always double check data charges before you use and use add-ons where available (see below)Turn data off completely when abroad: in numerous bill shock cases people haven't even realised they were downloading data but apps were still runningPay attention to provider warnings: operators should always warn you that you're outside a normal billing charge area. Don't ignore provider texts and emails when abroad.

Now on to the charges.

EU data charges

Steelie Neelie has laid down the law on roaming: unsurprising considering EU border-dwellers could easily roam completely accidentally.

Under the EU rules, providers can only charge up to 50 Euros a month, excluding VAT, for roaming, unless customers specifically chose a higher or lower limit.

The EU rules prompted most providers to start charging in pre-paid blocks to reduce EU costs even further, we summarise these deals below.

These rules should apply to all of mainland Europe as well as the Azores, Cyprus, Malta and the Canary Islands.

Bizarrely, T-mobile even count French Guyana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion as Europe so it's well worth checking whether your destination is included in these cheaper rates.

ProviderCall for roaming?EU add-onsThree1MB: £1.28
band 1, up to £43/monthOrange3MB: £3
30MB: £15
150MB: £50
500MB: £150

As you can see, even with EU intervention, roaming in Europe rules out any bandwidth-loving activities such as streaming music or video.

Remember we're talking about a maximum of 500MB which is just about half a GB. Some of the lowest-usage home broadband packages have a 10GB monthly limit.

If you think these prices are bad, though, wait until you see these.

Outside the EU

ProviderCall for roaming?EU add-onsVodafone1MB: £3 (up to 5MB)
5MB: £15 (5MB+)Three1MB: £3 band 2 (inc. US, HK)
1MB: £6 band 3
1MB: £10 band 4 (inc Croatia, Canada)Orange4MB: £8.17
10MB: £15.32
50MB: £61.27

In this case, even looking at pages and checking e-mail online will eat into the allowances pretty fast.

With data rates like that, some alternatives seem in order. Here are our favourites.

Prepaid SIM cards

Keeping your phone or dongle is a definite plus to this cheaper way to use data, although the phone will need to be GSM enabled (80% are) and unlocked for it to work.

Blackberries usually don't work either because of RIM's secure server system.

However, don't assume that a local or international phone card provider is necessarily cheaper. Many express prices in Euros or Dollars which can disguise the fact that they're still pretty pricy.

TravelSIM and WorldSIM are two well-known international brands. Try Prepaid GSM for local options, arranged by country.

BT FON network

BT total broadband customers can already opt-in for free wi-fi at Openzone hotspots in the UK, the FON network just extends that access to BT wi-fi partners around the world.

However, BT customer or no you do have to pay for your time online.

Access is just under 5.6p a minute with a pre-pay International Voucher or short-term access (500 minutes within 14 days from first logon) is £28 a pop.

Hotel, airport and other wifi hotspots

In a similar vein, just like in the UK, finding a hotspot could be as easy as grabbing a cappuccino at the nearest coffee shop or in your hotel.

Hotel Chatter's report into hotel wifi shows which big brands offer free internet services and we notice you can also narrow down the search by internet access (though it doesn't specify that it's free which is obviously the ideal).

To give your computer a helping hand with finding wi-fi networks out and about try downloading Netstumbler (for Windows) or iStumbler (for Macs) as well as the networks available these applications will tell you the security mechanisms in place, the channels they're transmitting on, signal strength and noise percentages.

Over to you

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments

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