Last spring Truphone, which has been developing both VoIP clients and multi-country SIM technology since 2001, announced its Truphone World plan, expanding the use of its SIM to seamlessly and transparently support wireless carrier voice and data access in 66 countries. During my recent 24 day trip across seven European countries I was able to obtain first hand user experience with this SIM.
The Truphone SIM provides you with:
- Voice channel and data channel over carriers in 66 countries
- Local phone numbers in the eight Truphone Zone countries1
- Seamless migration across participating carriers as you cross borders
- Ability to create a mobile WiFi hotspot in the eight Truphone Zone countries
- Volume plans for voice minutes, SMS messages and data that are transparent to the participating countries.
Recently I reported on my BlackBerry Z30 experience during this trip where I mentioned that I installed the Truphone World SIM on a BlackBerry Z10 which essentially became a WiFi access point or hotspot for my other devices, such as the Z30, an iPad Air, an iPhone 5 and my wife’s BlackBerry Q10 and iPad mini. All those devices were put in Airplane mode for the duration of the trip. I did have to carry around a spare Z10 battery pack to get through a full day as turning on the WiFi hotspot feature did impact battery drain.
One SIM, Eight Countries
With the Truphone SIM I basically had seamless voice and data services as I crossed borders. The only limitation was that I could only use the Z10 as a WiFi hotspot in the four Truphone Zone countries we visited (U.S., U.K., Netherlands and Germany).The Z10’s WiFi hotspot feature allows me to connect up to eight devices.
In the other four countries (seven days across Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic) my Z10 had voice access and data access only on the Z10 itself; phone-based WiFi hotspots and tethering were not allowed in these countries (see below). In those countries we still had WiFi access on our river cruise boat, at our hotel in Prague as well as at restaurants in Budapest and Prague. In several cities we found there was free WiFi access in or near the main squares.
Inbound Phone Numbers in Four Countries
Truphone supplied me with phone numbers in U.S., U.K. Netherlands and Germany. A call to any of these numbers would be answered on my Z10. For the purpose of this vacation trip I only gave the numbers out to my family should there be a need for, say, an emergency call. On the other hand if I made a call out to any of these countries, the callerID would be the number for the local country (and in Canada it provided the U.S. number).
I made voice calls to Canada, U.S., U.K., Netherlands and Germany during the trip, usually using the Contacts directory on my Z10. In all cases the call quality was excellent at both ends; no complaints, very clear voice, no background interference or white noise. Calls to my family back in Canada lasted anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour.
In one case I needed to change my homeward bound flight reservations after we learned a critical flight was cancelled; I spent ~40 minutes on hold waiting for an Air Canada representative (while that call was made at 7 a.m. in Munich, it was only 1 a.m. in Montreal) and within ten minutes of answering I had a satisfactory resolution of my issue; Air Canada put us onto a non-stop into Toronto instead of having to make a transfer in Frankfurt.
On a few occasions, such as where I did not have a phone number in my BlackBerry contacts, it was more convenient to make a voice call using my SkypeOut subscription over the Truphone SIM’s data channel; once again I had excellent voice quality.
Over the data channel supported by the SIM I was able to carry on normal Internet activities – email, web browsing (including Google Maps), social networking (especially FourSquare and Untappd), dedicated applications with access to my bank accounts, sports activities (World Cup and MLB), BlackBerry Maps, and all the BlackBerry 10 Share features.
Supporting five devices at various times and relying on the Internet Access described above for information, it turns out I used about 12GB of data during the 24 days of the trip. Probably a significant portion of this data (~20% to 30%) would be replicated as I had multiple devices using email and social networking accounts. As mentioned in my previous post I only used the iPhone 5 for panorama pictures which eventually would be loaded up to iCloud; otherwise I would occasionally use it to check out any differences with the iPhone experience.
Carrier Speeds & Protocols
In the course of traveling through both cities and “remote” countryside I also had a chance to learn a lot about the European carrier infrastructure. Also one needs to take into consideration that, especially in remote areas, there were mountains or high hills that could interfere with signals. (Grape vines on river valley hillsides do not serve as wireless carrier sites.) Unless I was in a city or large town, I found I was usually dealing with 2G/EDGE connections which basically only updated email and handled text type messages. As a test of speed I also turned on Rogers new European roaming plan during a couple of days and, while I could get LTE in cities, I found similar 2G/EDGE or 3G results in the rural areas.
In the larger towns and cities I would get either 3G or HSPA+ signals on my Z10 using the Truphone SIM (see my examples from the Czech Republic and Slovakia below); using the Rogers roaming test I would get LTE only in the areas of large cities. However 3G or HSPA+ gave me sufficient speed to deal with everything from Maps (BlackBerry and Google) to viewing videos.
Truphone World Plans
However, the bottom line is that Truphone keeps the traveler’s communications access costs down while delivering reliable, robust access to voice and data.
Truphone has several comprehensive individual and shared plans for businesses, comprising voice minutes, SMS messages and data usage.
In my particular case I was initially given a 500 minute/500 SMS/500MB “500” plan; however while I only used 160 minutes of voice and no SMS messaging2, I did use 12GB of data over that period. Here’s where you see the Truphone cost advantage:
Truphone’s 500 Plan has a cost of $70 per month but also provides for data add-on plans; in my case 10GB of excess data would have cost $132 per month ($13.20/GB). As a result the total cost of my Truphone World SIM usage would have been US$192 – significantly lower than Rogers roaming at $9.95/20MB plus 160 minutes of voice at $200 – including 200MB of data. In the Truphone Zone countries it also meant I did not have to buy the rather expensive hotel WiFi offerings ranging from €10 to €25 per day.
Note that using Truphone’s business plans do require a multi-month subscription commitment; otherwise consumer plans are also available.
For businesses with frequent travel to Europe or other countries outside North America Truphone’s offerings can provide significant cost savings while providing excellent voice quality and more than adequate data network speeds where 3G/HSPA+ is supported by their partner carriers. Whereas low data speeds would preclude using real time voice applications such as Skype, the voice channel remains available independently of the data channel speeds.
Check out this video, produced by Truphone, for an overview of Truphone World and how it work.
1United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Spain, Hong Kong, Australia
2For text messaging I used Skype and BBM, including daily photos to a family Group, with the occasional Facebook message.
Full disclosure: Truphone provided me with the Truphone SIM and did not charge me for its usage; they simply were looking for a customer experience use case. The expectation was that I would use it during this multi-country trip to see if it would provide the services I needed to keep connected to the Internet and make voice calls as appropriate. No monies were paid for providing this post. Being on vacation I did not have expectations for inbound calls other than family emergencies; it did, however, provide significant amounts of information supporting our trip as we traveled, such as weather, location on the ship, buses and train used. Also useful for researching additional information to that we learned at the various tourist tours taken, such as the story behind the plaque I found about the developer of the first Pilsner beer in 1842.