Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tech Column: International Data Roaming That Isn't Scary

by Bill Adler

I almost switched my cell phone company from AT&T to T-Mobile last week when T-Mobile announced free, unlimited international data roaming in 100 countries. I often roam internationally with AT&T, buying their overpriced 800 megabyte plan for $130. Worse than the rip-off price is the fact that I have to monitor my data use, because one single kilobyte beyond 800 megabytes and I'm automatically charged another $130. Rather than looking at monuments and museums, I'm checking the data counter on my phone. I understand that Verizon's international data rates are just as scary.

I haven't switched to T-Mobile because their unlimited international data roaming comes with a few footnotes. First, it's limited to 2G speeds. I haven't experienced 2G speeds since my Nokia flip phone. Still, even 2G lets you do email, Facebook, Yelp searches, Google maps, and other essentials. The second footnote is that you can't use it too often: You can't live abroad, dining on T-Mobile's data plan alone, without resurfacing in the United States every few months. The third footnote is that you have to sign up with a T-Mobile plan. T-Mobile's plans happen to be a lot less expensive than AT&T and Verizon's plans, but T-Mobile's US coverage isn't as good as the big two's coverage. For now.

Even with these caveats T-Mobile's unlimited, free international data roaming not only is tempting, but makes a lot of sense for a lot of people. (T-Mobile's plan also comes with a flat rate of 20 cents a minute for international voice calls, making it a sweet deal.) If T-Mobile doesn't force AT&T to loosen its grip on my wallet for international data roaming, I'm going to take another look at T-Mobile in a year or so. If you're a frequent international traveler and interested in learning more, visit T-Mobile at www.t-mobile.com.

In the meanwhile, there's XCom Global, a company that rents international cellular modems. I recently rented on for a trip to Europe, and it worked great. It costs about $121 for a week, but that includes unlimited international cellular data, not a cap of 800 megabytes, like AT&T has. XCom Global's mifi connects your cell phone, tablet, laptop --any device that has wifi-- to the Internet. It's fairly fast, too: I got consistent 3G speeds in Europe. The modem is powered by USB and the battery lasts about 4 hours, meaning that you can take it with you for a half day of wifi while you're out and about. After 4 hours, you need to plug in and power up. A lot of hotels in Europe charge for wifi; XCom's daily rate can be less than what your hotel charges. XCom, www.xcomglobal.com, ships their modem to you, and you return it by prepaid FedEx when your trip is over.


Bill Adler is a writer. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys:Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft, "Outwitting Squirrels," http://amzn.to/VXuLBh, and a mess of other books. He tweets at @billadler. His Fire Breathing Toaster column is published on Monday and his Tech Column is published on Tuesday.

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