Ace Los Angeles Times' consumer and biz travel reporter Catherine Hamm and I had a nice "chat" the other day about the problems that still plague those who travel internationally, especially those who travel on business or for extended periods. Trust me I know, and while I have client Truphone as my Swiss Army Knife of global service, and their recently introduced "Truphone Zone" basically makes five countries feel like one, I still like to see how the other half live in every country I visit.
Catherine nailed the point about how much hassle it can be sometimes. For example, my colleague Bill Ryan spent all day in the Orange shop in Paris just to get a SIM. I can relate, as I've had that same experience in some SFR and Orange stores, though my experience recently in Marseille was so fast I went back to see if it was a dream--it wasn't. The team in the Vieux Port store rock, but don't forget your carte d'identite (passport, drivers licence or in my case, Global Access). In Spain it's not much different, and same for Italy. Not so in Hong Kong, the UK or Austria where you simply walk into a shop, plunk down some local currency and walk out with a SIM. But then, as Hamm picked up from our chat, topping up isn't always easy.
I can recall one Sunday in Austria when I had no credit left, Euros in my pocket, and only fifth grade German to get me by. I found a petrol station and an English speaking local who helped me, but topping up a diesel car is easier than topping up a smartphone if you don't read or speak the language, something that Truphone also eliminates.
The one angle that I wish Catherine had gone into is Wi-Fi access and making calls. My view is that as the SIM begins to become the authentication process for public Wi-Fi networks, watch how the mobile operators start to "charge" for Wi-Fi offload, and then Wi-Fi calling. With the new standards in place between the WBA and GSMA looming, the days of "Skype Me" for free may be over.....if you don't have the right local plans.
-- ANDY ABRAMSON