Holiday roaming headaches
We’re living in an increasingly mobile-oriented world, using our smartphones to surf the web, keep in touch and interact with the world around us through apps like Google Maps and technologies such as QR codes.
All fine and dandy provided you have cost-effective data plans for your phone or easy access to wifi. And in the UK we pretty much do – competition has brought mobile data costs down to a reasonable level and most coffee shops offer wifi access for the price of a latte. Lots of organisations/cities are now rolling out free wifi, realising that it both attracts visitors and enables you to sell location specific advertising and offers.
Everything looks rosy – until you leave the country. I’ve just returned from holiday in France where I faced the choice of paying nearly 30p per megabyte for data or trying to find cheap/free wifi, which was nigh on impossible. So all the lovely QR codes outside interesting buildings/on brochures were out of bounds to me and finding out up to date information on attractions was nigh on impossible. While that’s an annoyance now, as more and more people rely on their mobiles for information the problem will only get worse.
Before people think I’m criticising the French, I’m sure data roaming charges are equally steep if they come to the UK, though there’s more free wifi here. It did amaze me that there weren’t any forward looking town councils/tourist offices/coffee shops that had just stuck an open wifi network up around key buildings – I’d have happily registered for access or bought a croissant to get my mobile data fix.
There’s also a bigger picture – we’re being encouraged to store more and more of our lives in the Cloud, and that relies on cost-effective internet access, wherever we are. So cutting us off from our personal data is going to hold back moves to the Cloud-based world, which could hit the likes of Google and Amazon hard. The EU has forced operators to reduce their charges, but even with the latest cuts it is still way above what you pay in your home country for data. If we’re to have an open, mobile (in both senses) population then cost-effective internet access needs to be a priority for governments, operators and wifi providers across Europe.