Thursday, July 31, 2014

My experiences with Mobile Phone Roaming in Europe.

I have recently been on the continent, staying in Germany, Switzerland and finaly France.

Three UK expanded their ‘Feel at Home’ service to more countries including Switzerland and France on the 3rd July 2014.

Unfortunately the outbound leg of our trip through France started prior to the switch being thrown on this, however a few years ago before going on a trip to Italy I purchased a Vodafone Italy SIM card from Europasim , which was prepaid and had good roaming rates within Italy and throughout Europe. Previously I had also used Three’s daily £5 data tariff for all you can eat data for 24 hours, over a 14 day trip this would start getting expensive.

As I was researching for this trip I discovered that the rates had changed on the Vodafone SIM to be called ‘SmartPassport’, the SIM which I had was still live and so I arranged for the tariff to be changed to the Smart Passport and topped up the credit on it.

So my plan was to use the Italian SIM in the areas that Three did not cover with their feel at home package, and then change back to my Three SIM as we entered Switzerland.

Shortly after getting on the ferry at Dover for the run to Dunkirk, my phone connected to Maritime Net and ended up with £3.45 worth of data going over their network, so first lesson is to switch roaming off unless you're sure that you're within a good roaming area.

Approaching Dunkirk I switched over to the Italian SIM and was happy to see a connection and receiving a text message in Italian announcing that 3 euros had been debited and my allowance for the day.  Getting off the ferry I fired up Waze and was happy to see that it connected and downloaded my route to the apartment in Germany that we were staying, along with the emails that arrived whilst we were on the ferry.

For the next few days this worked perfectly, me having 3 euros debited and receiving the same text from vodafone.

The transfer from France to Germany worked fine, with only a couple of minutes lost connection whilst the SIM registered with the new Network.

The apartment was in an area that was only covered by a 2G signal (and did not have WiFi, but although the connection was slow, and I had to be careful to time big downloads and uploads for my quiet time, one night I downloaded the German language pack for Google translate.  I averaged around 100-200MBs/day, well within the 500MB allowance. Including one evening downloading the Google Translate German dictionary, with no problems.

During this time I made a few, although not many calls back to the UK, staying within the 25 minute call allowance.  I checked my credit amount a number of times using the short code 404 and daily the credit decreased by 3 euros each day.

Entering Switzerland I changed the SIM card back to my Three SIM, and waited a few minutes for the connection and confusingly received a text from Three explaining the roaming rates within the EU, shortly before receiving the text that I was in a feel at home country and I could use the phone as if at home.

I found the data rate and experience in Switzerland good and had no problems with signal.

The return back to the UK involved a night in France to break up the journey. Crossing the Switzerland/French border gave the same two texts, first the Euro charging rates, and then the Feel at home text.

During the trip abroad I found both SIM cards lived up to the expectations that I ahd and the service that was advertised.

Both cards could be slightly problematical on the move. The transfers between towers seemed occasionally not to happen, and I would loose signal, and wait some time for the SIM to be registered on the new network, although I did not notice this with the Three SIM until I was in France, so maybe the Swiss network is much better at this.

During the trip I noticed a higher than usual battery drain, probably due to the phone trying to find its home network rather than the roaming network.

It was nice returning back into Portsmouth that I did not have to change my SIM card and was ready to go on leaving the ferry.

I would recommend the Europasim product, just be aware that all the texts from the network are in Italian, although the Europasim website has a quick guide to most of these, so you can have at least a good estimate as to what each means. Also be very careful to read the setup for the APN, which Europasim have on their website as this could cause issues with your data signal.

If you are lucky to be on the Three network and are heading abroad to a Feel at home country, it works fine and you should have no problems, if you are not on Three you could always pick up a prepaid SIM card for the time you are away (make sure your phone is unlocked though).