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MaxRoam Offers micro-SIM for European 3G iPad Roaming

MaxRoam has a solution for the ruinously high price of using cellular data on a 3G iPad outside the country in which you've signed up for service. Its Euro iPad Pack is a micro-SIM that can be inserted into the 3G iPad and allows flat per-megabyte roaming with no expiration across Europe. The micro-SIM ships 1 June 2010. (Japan is, so far, the only country in which Apple is locking the 3G iPad to a particular carrier.)

The MaxRoam micro-SIM costs €75 (about US$95) initially for both the SIM and 50 MB of data. Additional data can be purchased in either 10 MB units for €25 (US$32) or 50 MB units for €75. The company provides scant information, but it appears that data does not expire at the end of a billing cycle, since you buy data in chunks as you need it.

AT&T's 3G iPad international service plans - which work across all of Europe, too - cost $24.99 for 20 MB, $59.99 for 50 MB, $119.99 for 100 MB, and $199.99 for 200 MB; data must be used within 30 days or it expires.

In other words, like AT&T's unique unlimited 3G service plan in the United States, AT&T's international service plans are far cheaper than this competitive European alternative unless you're worried about data expiration.

I haven't yet seen any information about pan-European roaming from European carriers, but I wonder if MaxRoam will be competitive there as well. The European Commission's Telecoms Commissioner has been aggressive in forcing carriers to lower voice, text, and data rates across EU borders. If AT&T can charge $60 for 50 MB, I'll be curious to see whether Orange, O2, Vodafone, and others can beat that deal.

Of course, all these roaming prices are essentially international highway robbery. Providing data costs the same on a modern cell network (2G and 3G) whether or not the user is a customer of the carrier or of a roaming partner.

The big cost is billing, in which carriers need to settle roaming charges with other carriers, but that should, at most, add 10 or 20 percent to the normal cost, which already includes a substantial profit margin. The markup is even more ridiculous for carriers - like O2, Orange, and Vodafone - that operate networks in multiple countries. Those firms are moving billings around among bank accounts owned by the same multinational parent, and have even fewer costs.

What drives international roaming prices for voice and 3G data is monopoly control. While countries can do something about pricing among carriers within a nation, there's little regulatory control that forces a European or Asian carrier to give AT&T a good roaming price, nor - if AT&T is paying a far lower cost than it bills - to force AT&T to charge less. Within the EU itself, though, regulators have that power, and have pushed through lower prices by the force of law and the force of shame.


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Comments about MaxRoam Offers micro-SIM for European 3G iPad Roaming
(Comments are closed.)

M. Perry  2010-05-14 11:42
Keep in mind the regulatory dynamics. Those who are data roaming in a country don't live there, so no political benefit comes from treating them fairly. You see the same thing here in Seattle where controversial projects get funded by taxes on hotel rooms and rental cares, taxes paid almost exclusively by outsiders. This is much the same thing. It's unfair, but it's politics.
Glenn Fleishman  2010-05-14 12:17
You'd have to get the ugly situation of international regulatory authority, which I'm not sure is a good idea! Wi-Fi used to (and still can) short circuit that, as it's generally affordable (outside hotels) in most of the world where it's available.
Vodafone UK's roaming rates are at this link.

Makes AT*T look a bargain - who would have guessed!
Michael M.  2010-05-14 11:45
It seems the best buy is still a local (national) SIM card from a lost-cost provider. At least if you stay in a country for a while.
I got a Vodafone SIM for my iPhone when I was in Holland two weeks ago. It cost me 5 euro and it even had 10 euro of minutes on it (and co-incidentally a very easy to remember phone number). A 250 MB data pack added just 9 euro to that. It worked fine although Vodafone doesn't have 3G coverage everywhere.

But every phone provider uses GSM and HSPA/UMTS in Europe so I'm sure they all will bring iPad packs on the market. I don't think Apple can prevent them from doing so.

I'm curious if Bell/Telus in Canada are going to also provide iPad data service. I bet they will.

Scissors will convert the SIM into a MicroSIM with no problems.
Local SIM cards are always the best option, though not always easy to get. In Germany one low-cost provider is offering a 10€ prepaid (i.e. no contract) data service with 1GB/month and full 3.5G speed, explicitly advertising it for the iPad. One downside for foreigners is that you need a local post address to get the card.
Who is the local german provider with the pre paid sim cards?