Douwe Osinga's Blog: The cost of mobile data

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Long time no blogging, I am afraid. I don't know. Anyway, I am still playing around with my cell phone. GMail works pretty well, the stripped down version, but nevertheless. I can check my mail on the tram, I got Google Talk working, I can tunnel into work, it is all great.

Data prices have come down too. Sunrise, a Swiss provider, has a deal on 50 Franks for 2GBytes a month, which is quite nice for GPRS/UMTS. Maybe not quite unlimited, but it is enough if you refrain from downloading movies and be easy on the music. The problem is of course that I don't need data access in Switzerland that much; I have my connection at home and a quite decent connection at work too.

Switzerland is not that big so when you're traveling it doesn't take much in you are in a different country. GPRS still works, but now the roaming charges kick. No more unlimited or cheap Gigabytes. On my account they charge an impressive 40 franks per megabyte when I am in the Netherlands. That is a mark up of more than 1500 times. That can't be right.

You can do better than that of course, an Austrain per-paid card gets you a megabyte in most Western countries for 8 Euro's, which is of course still very expensive. But there must be a market here somewhere. You can't sell the same product in the same market with a difference in price this big.

Rental is of course one option. You arrive on the airport, pick up a SIM card with unlimited data on it, pay 10 dollars a day or so and return it when you're done. But with the advent of cellphones that support both GPRS/UMTS and Wifi, it should alos be feasible to do something more advanced.

Each of such cell phone supports the hardware to be a portable hotspot; they could just let others connect to the wifi part and route the traffic though the cellular data network. If we could put some sort of peer to peer payment system in place where users would pay the local provider a little bit, each of those 50 Frank unlimited plans could help a lot more than one person out.