Networks of Evil


One thing that struck me while we were away is how things conspire to make your mobile phone useless when you go abroad. Just when you are in a place where you could make the best use of portable data access you find that it is prohibitively expensive, if it is available at all. Using voice is out of the question. I can’t think of anyone I’d be happy to pay 85p a minute to talk to, or receive a call from at 70p. So I made no calls on the phone while we were away. Then one night the network made my phone call itself. Which was very confusing for me, as well as costing me 1.55 a minute..

Then there is network connectivity. Charging 8 pounds a megabyte for data access from the phone makes it unusable on the internet. Are there people who can afford to do anything with data at this price? I don’t think so, because I didn’t run across anyone wearing a solid gold hat and looking up things on their phone. From a technical point of view it can’t be any more expensive to provide me with network access than it is to connect the local folks sat next to me on the tram. This is just plain and simple profiteering. Ugh.

So we go back to the hotel. They are happy to provide me with “unlimited” access to the interwebs for just 29 dollars a day. That is around twenty times the cost of my home connection. But wait, it gets better. Once I’ve transferred 100MBytes (i.e. read a few emails, uploaded some pictures and visited a few image heavy web sites) I can either pay extra per megabyte or get shunted onto a capped data connection that is actually slower than my dialup modem used to be. Double ugh. It’s almost as if they have concocted a tariff that makes it impossible for someone to, say, watch a movie from Netflix in their room. Or actually achieve anything.

My experience has been that the more posh the hotel, the more appalling the network charges. The Howard Johnston motel I stayed at had free WiFi. Once I found myself in a very pricey hotel in Las Vegas (I wasn’t paying fortunately) where a network connection wasn’t expensive, it just wasn’t there at all.

In the end we became the worst kind of WiFi leaches, looking for places that happened to provide working WiFi for free. It is always sobering to read all these reports of how connected devices are going to be the way, the truth and the future, and then find yourself in a place where the network either doesn’t work, or is so expensive as to be useless.