On the road again…

by Ben Smith on 31st January 2011

It’s time to get on the road again… and inevitably thinking about roaming bills. A combination of internet-based services and even reasonable rates mean voice calls have stopped being the worry they once were – now it’s all about data.

My most recent trip to Australia had been simple in comparison to the usual pain…

The Vodafone Australia stand in Sydney Airport

The Vodafone Australia stand in Sydney Airport

I’d arrived into Sydney airport to be presented with a Vodafone stand selling mobile phones slap bang outside arrivals… Beat that Heathrow! (you can’t – only Vodafone UK is represented in Terminal 5 departures). I worried briefly that everything on display seemed to be targeting pay-monthly users, but the staff there quickly had a book of tariffs out when I asked about data SIMs. It took a moment’s self-control not to purchase a ‘pocket WiFi‘ (I have too many MiFIs) and just grabbed a pre-paid mobile broadband SIM. I wavered slightly wondering if there were better deals to be done (there were other networks with stands in the terminal) but decided that if Vodafone were good enough partners for my UK network of choice (Three) they were good enough for me.

So far so good… the transaction took five minutes, the data tariffs (and, to be fair, the mobile phone plans) looked reassuringly familiar and I was on my way. Happy me, happy girlfriend (in reverse order of importance.

But the next trip is Barcelona for Mobile World Congress – somewhere I know doesn’t have any mobile networks represented in the airport. I also don’t speak any Spanish… (well, I can order a beer)

Quora tells me that Yoigo is the network to go for… indeed it even tells me to buy it at a Phone House (Carphone Warehouse by a more sensible name). But that’s where I run out of ideas – even Google Translate can’t help me understand the options. There’s a great deal too much ‘unlimited’ bandied around with suggestions of speed throttling once certain limits have been passed, but in truth I’m not certain what applies when.

The absence of the language barrier in Sydney had been a bonus, but – crucially – the networks were there… offering a service right when I needed it.

What I’d really like are some simple (even premium priced if necessary) SIMs – pre-loaded with data and voice (I know few people are only interested in data like me) – to be universally available at most large airports (because this isn’t just a Barcelona-related problem). Given I can normally buy a big-name newspaper, an espresso and book a sight-seeing tour from the arrivals hall of most major airports isn’t it time that mobile network connectivity was also added to that list as a traveller’s essential?

Image credit: Sydney Airport website

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