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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Vodafone Euro flatrate data roaming - looks like a WiFi hotspot killer to me

Just seen the announcement over the wires that Voda is extending its Passport service to encompass a flatrate (well, for 50MB) data roaming fee of €12 a day for laptop users travelling in Europe.

Given that a typical European hotspot costs about €6 an hour, or €20-30 in business-class hotels, this would make it largely pointless for business travellers to use WiFi hotspots, except where 3G coverage is lousy (eg conference rooms in hotels' basements), or if 50MB is not enough (eg 2 hours of Skype calls plus lots of emailed powerpoint documents). I imagine most European business travellers rack up €12 in phone bills, plus at least that in taxi fares and restaurant bills, so it should be absorbed pretty easily into travel budgets.

Once again, this shows up just how badly the European WiFi industry has been managed. It has managed to squander more than a 3-year lead over the cellular data industry. It has been plagued by lousy interoperability, grudging roaming relationships, and stupid pricing. Obviously the right price for hotspot pricing has been on a par with public Internet cafes - about €1-2 per hour, in other words paying a bit more for the more complex infrastructure and security, offset by the fact you're not using a public facility's PCs but your own instead. Instead, you have rapacious tariffs from the likes of Swisscom Eurospot (once of the worst offenders) and peers. The 5* hotel in Budapest at which I gave a conference presentation today charged €20 per day for WiFi. The hotel I stayed in around the corner gave it away for free (and more reliably, perhaps because of less marble) on a room tariff of only €60.

The fact that hotspot operators have tried to replicate the cellular industry's roaming model & charge premium rates for travellers further highlights their lack of credibility. Unlike mobile, there isn't even the complex HLR/VLR-type interconnect arrangement that could be used as an excuse for high costs of roaming. As far as I know, no hotspot roaming deal involves tunnelling all your Internet traffic back via your original WiFi provider, you just get a direct local connection. (iPass might be an exception because of its fancy security/enterprise functionality, I don't know)

There are however a couple of questions outstanding about Voda's new plan - firstly, why isn't it available on handsets as well as laptops? And secondly, it cites its applicability to "mobile-enabled laptops". I hope this includes laptops with external cards/USB modems, and not just embedded 3G, as for various reasons I have significant doubts that that particular category is going to fly - as well as it having a huge existing base of existing card-based users.

Incidentally, for those intending to use the service for VoIP - typically, reckon on about 500kb-1MB per minute. Assuming Big Red doesn't try something silly like trying to block it, that is.


Ron said...

It is interesting how the competition of affordable WiFi connections have been rapidly increasing. With more and more internet services, many businesses will go bankrupt in competing for lower prices and stingy customers.

Bandwidth Buyers Guide

Anonymous said...

My assumption upto this point is that 3G PS radio is incapable of supporting VoIP even with HSDPA/HSUPA especially in a business environment (less bandwidth efficient than CS radio, more latency). I know that 3GPP are looking to make IMS based VoIP more efficient but most people I talk to seem to agree that PS VoIP won't happen until LTE. Now you might argue that its not the PS radio but the over engineered 3GPP IMS that causes most of the problems (SIP pre-conditions). And if that is true then Skype might have more chance of success over PS radio. But then why did 3 go with a Skype like offer that actually uses the CS radio for the voice channel? Perhaps this is why VF seem not be concerned that flat rate data across Europe will eat away their lucrative roaming revenues

Renjish said...

A comment on the non-telco hotspot rates that you mentioned. If you check Skype zone rates, it's much less than what Vodafone is offering. For a month, you need to pay only 6.50 EUR.
They have deals with Boingo and The cloud.

Regarding the high prices in hotels, it could be the case in some places. But my experience with hotels, for instance Scandic has been that hotels are giving it away for free in return for either filling up membership forms (free) or simply to retain the loyalty.

Not to forget the number of open/community hotspots available in most large cities.

Therefore, in my opinion, Vodafone charges are still quite higher and perhaps cosmetic in nature. The EC roaming proposal is still in discussion, if you recall.

Martin said...

Hello Dean,

I am a frequent business traveler in Europe and I quite welcome Vodafone Germany's new incentive. My Prepaid Vodafone SIM card is hopefully already in the mailbox when I come home from my current business trip and I can't wait to try it out. After all, I am not always in countries like Italy where prepaid SIM 3G Internet access for affordable prices is available. Think France, think U.K., think most other countries so far. Hope this is going to change in the future as 15 euros a day is too much for non business travelers.


john said...

Interesting article! I am glad the competition of high speed internet service providers are in full force! I know a cheap and reliable provider that carries many broadband choices. Check them out: http://t1-lines.net

MPH140 said...

Vodafone Euro Traveller, which is Vodafone UK's new offering, works out incredibly expensive if you are mainly a data user with varied roamed call use.

I am a Vodafone UK customer.

Data Traveller cost only 10 pounds a month for 25mb a day. In my case calls varied but in total monthly bill if I was roaming for a month was never as high as what it would cost with Euro Traveller - around 90 pounds!

As Vodafone removed the old services without giving the option to keep them, many customers and I are fighting to be released from our contracts as they are now pretty much useless when abroad and we chose Vodafone due to these services being available. Vodafone, however, are not allowing this and so complaints have been lodged with Ofcom, the Ombudsman and BBC Watchdog.

You can see the discontent here:

I urge all of you who are unhappy not to just sit back and take this kind of treatment. The more Vodafone see that people are upset and their reputation going down the drain, the more they are likely to worry and listen!