Dialogic Blog

Sayonara Roaming, Konnichiwa Free Wi-Fi Access

by Cristina Cocco

Nov 25, 2015 9:19:22 AM

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Can you survive Japan with no voice /data roaming using free Wi-Fi Hotspots only?  Yes, you can!

On a recent trip to Japan, I had to face the inevitable hurdle all data roamers face to avoid astronomical roaming charges, especially when traveling outside the EU: Contact my mobile operator and find out the roaming packages they offer.  And while I’m on hold waiting to speak to the next available operator, I wonder if these packages will be price sensitive, what type of pricing model they will apply (per MB, per KB, or else), and will I need a calculator in my hand when using data?

The best roaming package I got offered required a small set fee with a pricing model of €/MB, but with a charging model of 10KB increments. Great, I’m going to need a calculator with that package – and most likely will never figure out how much I’m really going to get charged until I get the bill package. Can you say, “Bill Shock?”

The plan was to use mobile data for email and emergencies, and wi-fi where available for all my other data needs; the voice and sms pricing was quite moderate.  However, voice and sms ended up being not that useful, especially in an era where a great deal of smartphone users – even my Mom— use OTT services for both text/call, which require data access, inevitably.

The first couple of days in Japan, I managed just fine using both Wi-Fi access where available and data roaming when needed, although the Wi-Fi handoff to 4G/3G wasn’t always seamless. At times right after handoff, I would get EDGE only and I was forced to restart the phone a few times to get 4G back— not the best user experience.  

But on the third day right after a handoff from a Wi-Fi hotspot to the host operator, I got a very much dreaded message: PDP authentication failure. This meant the end of my voice, sms, and data service, and no matter the number of times I restarted the phone, the message kept popping up on my screen.

Ironically, I could not even call my own provider for assistance, as I had no voice service. Wi-Fi was my only option for communication. When forced to completely rely on it, I came to discover the wonder of “Travel Japan Wi-Fi”.  A Kyoto subway advertising in English caught my attention as it advertised free Wi-Fi access for everyone. I walked into the Kyoto central station tourist office where a poster on display said: 336 hours free Wi-Fi access for 14 days , in over 200,000 hotspots across Japan.

It required a simple registration to receive the passcode, and that was it.

I was amazed by the coverage and service— quite a satisfactory user experience.  My OTT apps enabled me to make /receive calls, text, send/receive images/video/voice text, all services working flawlessly and for free.

The absence of my mobile service ended up not being disruptive, but it did bother me. After all, I was paying for a service that was not working and I could not access their customer service to solve the issue. Bad user experience.

And while the EU mobile operators have finally set the date to 2017 to end roaming charges in the EU only, subscribers can access different free options already such as Wi-Fi access and OTT services both within the EU and outside the EU.

So I wonder, how mobile operators are thinking of competing with these? What is this going to force operators to do?

No roaming charges might not be enough, what services are they thinking of offering to keep users on their network? Have they lost their window of opportunity for roaming revenue or are they going to make it up other ways?

Will operators develop OTT apps like Orange did with Libon to at least keep their customers on their network when they roam or use Wi-Fi, or  Vodafone’s Call+ that allows its subscribers to have a more interactive and personal calling experience by adding content on the go?

Will Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) and better data plans reduce the need for Wi-Fi?

I’d be interested to know, are you?

Tell us what you think and share your experience by tweeting @Dialogic #freewifiservice

Topics: 3G, 4G, 5G, and WiFi, Signaling