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.
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