Travel International Data: Tep Wireless vs. T-Mobile Unlimited Data vs. Verizon Global vs. Telestial

As a small business owner and a geek who also loves to travel internationally, I still want to stay in contact with my clients, even though I usually don't do any work while on vacation. I love all my mobile devices and being always connected is a priority for me, even if just to find the nearest restaurant while in a foreign locale. Over the past the year, I have scoured the internet for reviews and tried solutions to having a data connection in Europe without paying an exorbitant amount.

This all started with a trip to Italy planned way in advance with my family. Being away for 2 weeks, I needed as much data as possible for the lowest cost and best convenience for multiple devices. I found out about Tep Wireless after reading an article on New York Times. For just over a hundred bucks, I booked a WiFi device with unlimited data (kind of a misnomer as there is a cap) to be shipped from London to my home a day or two before I flew out on my trip. Now here's the bad news: I waited until the day before my trip only to not receive any device. When I emailed tep, they basically indicated that my order fell through the cracks and that they, of course, wouldn't be able to ship my device to the US. Instead, they offered to ship it to my location in Italy. Unfortunately, I was going to be staying in a villa in a remote area of Umbria where I didn't even have an address yet, only  GPS coordinates. So I canceled my order. To make matters worse, when I got back, they made it so difficult to get my money back that I ended up disputing the charge with my credit card company.

Okay, so since I didn't have enough time to order a device from another company, I tried the next best thing. I activated the Global Data plan with my wireless carrier Verizon, which costs $25/month, with the first month including 100mb of data and each additional 100MB of data used costing $25. 100MB is not a lot, especially when I consume up to 2GB on my smartphone each month, but I also stream music and upload all my photos. Therefore, just to be safe, I installed the My Data Manager app for Android to keep track of how much data I was using and what apps were using it. Along with having WiFi at the villa, this was a lifesaver. Of course, I had to turn off any background syncing on all my apps, such as Facebook, Google+ and tweak my email settings. This actually worked out pretty well, but of course, I had to do a lot of work managing and restricting what I normally do. The only issue I had was with my phone's weather widget, which got stuck in some updating loop at the end of the trip and used up 80MB in one night.

After I got back, T-Mobile announced that they would be offering unlimited international data with their plans in the near future. I was intrigued. I had T-Mobile as my carrier in the past before switching to Verizon, and while I hated their customer service, I figured I could just buy a SIM and use this for a short time and then cancel. So a month before my next trip, I bought a SIM and a basic plan online. Since they activated the service even before I inserted the SIM in my phone, I figured I would try it out. Once I had it in my phone and switched networks, I opened up my browser and tried a web page. I was shocked to find out that it took a minute and counting for just Yahoo! to load. I was no longer on 4G and not even on 3G but rather on T-Mobile's Edge network. We are talking slow, 2G speed. At first, I thought it was just the band limitations of my phone. But after researching online, I discovered that T-Mobile's unlimited data in Europe is actually limited to Standard speeds approx. 128 Kbps. OMG, that takes me back to the 90's! That's about twice the speed of dial up! You basically can't do anything with this except wait hours for all your email to get downloaded. I'm glad I was able to test this out before leaving the country as it gave me an opportunity to cancel and ship my SIM back to T-Mobile. I am already back from my trip and I'm still trying to resolve my billing with them as the first agent I talked to never pro-rated my bill and gave me wrong information so it went into collections. I'm surprised this carrier is still in business with such bad customer service.

Fortunately, this experience gave me enough time to make another choice. I have heard of Telestial
before in my past searches, but by searching again, I discovered that they had a great new product, perfect for my needs. They now offer a Data SIM, which allows you to get on a 3G network (if available) in over 50 countries around the world. Keep in mind that this is only a data plan and it doesn't provide any voice or text capability, which I didn't need anyway since I use Google Voice and Voipo. For only $99, you get 1GB of data for 30 days. That's less than 0.10 per MB! What made this even better was their JT TravelApp that allows you to track how much data you have used and even recharge your data if you use up the first 1GB.

I purchased one online and it arrived with no problem, just a simple package with a SIM card and a pocket info card. After inserting the SIM, it was very easy to set up the APN for my phone to recognize the SIM and connect to a network. When I arrived in Spain, I was anxious to see this work and was probably too hasty to connect that I tried to manually connect to each of the Spanish networks available. But perhaps it was just trying to activate at the same time, so once I switched back to automatic network, it was connected to the best available network and I was on the internet with no problem. The same was true when I arrived in France. It connected to a network immediately and I was getting 3G with no problems. Even though I had WiFi in my Paris apartment, it was great to be able to use Google Maps, search for restaurants via TripAdvisor, and check my email or surf the internet all over the city, even in the Metro. I also love their app! It shows you how much data you are using (and in which country), gives you weather info, and even has a currency converter. Overall, my whole experience using this company was excellent. Now, I can relax knowing that my next international trip will be worry free and all I have to do is recharge my existing SIM. Beautiful!

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