A new service is offering unlimited mobile internet access in 32 countries around the world for a flat daily fee — adding yet another nail to the coffin of telcos' inflated global roaming data fees.
We've recently covered some solutions to the problem of high data roaming fees (typically $10-$20 per MB from Australian telcos), including:
- a SIM card that provides cheap voice and data rates in both the UK and US
- a SIM that provides cheap roaming data in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand or India
- a good pre-paid SIM for Hong Kong.
- a guide to using your Australian iPhone 4 in the USA
- a guide to using your Australian iPad in the USA
However, a new company is offering another terrific option: rentals of small, battery-powered Wi-Fi modems that connect to the mobile network in any of 32 countries, providing unlimited internet access for $US17.95 a day.
The countries covered are: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Guam, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, The UK, The United States, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
The modems are called "MiFi" and you rent one for each country you're travelling to. When you arrive at your destination, you turn the modem on, and it creates a Wi-Fi hotspot your laptop, smartphone, iPad, etc can connect to. If you have a travel partner, they can connect to it as well — up to five devices can be connected to one MiFi at once.
Although many hotels now offer internet access for around $US15 per day, this still leaves you out of contact when you're out and about — and with the number of useful apps for travellers on smartphones these days, it's pretty inconvenient.
We got a quote on a two week trip to Germany, Ireland and the UK. For this, you have to rent three separate MiFi modems — however, only one of them is charged at the full $17.95 per day rate, with the other two charged at a reduced $9.00 per day.
The cost came out to $478.10 (not including delivery to/from Australia), demonstrating that although it's cheaper than global roaming would be for the same period of time, it's still a reasonably costly exercise.
However, a two week trip to just one country would only cost $226.10 (not including delivery) — a very appealing price for unlimited internet access for the whole time.
Buying a pre-paid SIM card in the destination country and using your own MiFi hotspot might be a cheaper option, of course, but navigating the many different offers from telcos in a foreign country, possibly in a foreign language, can be a very confusing process. Xcom essentially does this for you and charges for the convenience.
Don't lose the gizmos!
One note if you are considering taking up the offer — most travel insurance policies will not cover goods you take with you that you do not own. Xcom offers insurance at $3.95 per day, which covers up to three modems, and if you don't take this option, the price for a lost modem is $800 per modem. For a two week trip, this adds another $55.30 to the cost.
We'd really like to see Xcom charging a more reasonable amount for a lost modem, as a MiFi modem is only worth around $200. The $3.95 per day charge smacks of rental car excess waiver fees — high profit insurance that's driven by a fear of the ludicrously high excess fees charged by rental car companies in the case of a crash.