Germany Internet Access is a Joke

My family and I spent the last 10 days primarily in Germany. We’d each brought our iPhones, my wife and I our iPads, and my daughter her Macbook Air. Besides the fact that our service Boingo Bombed, what was most bothersome was how German hotels, coffee shops, rail stations and the airport are laughingly behind other countries with wireless internet access and everyone charges for access.

Services like Boingo, that aggregate hotspots, are often forced to charge an $0.18/minute “roaming” fee for services. In the same way the European Union was supposed to make doing business in Europe easier and more like the seamless commerce within the United States, we’ve seen how that has failed in today’s economy and wireless internet access is too.

If you live in Germany and have a wireless provider like Orange or Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile, you can pay them a fee and have both mobile wireless and Wifi (or what Europeans call “WLAN”) access. If you’re a traveler, you’re out of luck. It was unbelievably difficult to find wireless access anywhere we went unless we were prepared to be nickel-n-dimed to death paying their stupid little fees.

It’s no wonder that we saw an amazingly small number of either iPhone or Android smartphone users while on the road. People in train stations, the airport, within hotels, and on the street, people there used mobile internet devices far less than what I’ve seen anywhere within North America (or Japan, for that matter).

When I was in Germany with my Dad in 1997 I built this website on the fly with a Powerbook, acoustic coupler and modem, an Apple Quicktake camera and a copy of Adobe Pagemill (web software). Deutsche Telekom placed a “pulse” signal on the phone lines of hotels and in phone booths in order to manage the toll charges on the call. While bothersome with voice calls, it was horrendous with a data connection since, each time the pulse occurred (about every 20 seconds), the modem would have to re-handshake and it would interrupt the data stream. God it was frustrating!

It’s just about as frustrating today trying to find access while traveling in Germany. Yes, it’s better than it was in 1997 but even within hotels it’s not much better. The only hotel where we could log on regardless of our device (an iPhone, iPad or laptop) was at the Marriott Berlin. The Marriott property in Munich was a joke (cable in room only so no wireless devices could be used).

My wife is in Germany 3-4 times per year and only uses the internet at her hotel. I’ve researched, called people in Germany, talked to various providers, and all tell me the same story: She either needs to buy a SIM card and switch out her iPhone card (fat chance) or get an account on a German mobile network (Huh? Who the hell would signup for a mobile subscription when in the country a few times per year?). 

Of course, roaming on mobile networks outside the U.S. is not an option and horror stories abound of people who have had $1,000s to pay upon their return from an international trip. Our U.S. carrier, AT&T, has international plans but they offer download amounts one would go over in an hour of solid use. They’re a joke too but it’s because of the inflexibility of mobile providers in Europe.

As the world continues to accelerate toward one where the masses have wireless devices and expect to gain access wherever they go, Germany better get their act together and quit protecting their telecom companies and open it up. 

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2 Comments

  1. Tim Elliott on August 30, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    While you guys were in Germany, we were in Paris and Amsterdam. Both hotels had free wifi that worked OK with our gear and we found some museums who also had some good “free” service (included with their 12 Euro entrance fee). We did fine. So all of Europe is not borked with wifi 😉



  2. ber on October 6, 2011 at 12:29 am

    Sorry for the trouble you had but where have you been? At least in Berlin there are plenty of coffeshops with free wifi:
    http://www.wificafespots.com/wifi/city/DE-BE-Berlin



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