The Prepaid GPRS Rip-off

By | September 10, 2005

I’ve grumbled before about how hard it is to do GPRS on prepaid cards. For those who haven’t done this, it’s simply a way to turn your smartphone into an Internet ready machine when you’re on the road (removing you from some of the pain of roaming GPRS charges, in the rare times they’re available. )

The problem is that as far as I can work out there are no flat-rate plans for prepaid GPRS users. Instead, you’re charged per kilobyte transferred, and just downloading a dozen or so email headers  (not the contents; just the headers) will quickly drain your credit. I emptied 20 pounds of credit on UK’s T-Mobile this month after checking my email twice and making a couple of local calls. The price per kilobyte is given as 2 pence but that doesn’t sound right. GPRS on prepaid seems a quick route to bankruptcy. No wonder there’s no useful information about the pricing on their website.

Sadly it’s not just Rip-Off Britain that’s emptying pockets with what are  beguilingly called Top-Ups. Singapore and Hong Kong, when they offer GPRS at all, do so at rates that are usurious.

Anyone had similar or contrasting experiences? Or tips for getting around this problem? Here are some from Syd Low of Alien Camel. My only ones are these:

  • use one email account for vital stuff when you’re travelling so the number of emails you need to sync is manageable;
  • download only headers on sync. You can always download the whole email if you need to;
  • eep your inbox folder as empty as possible if you’re using IMAP. This reduces sync time and cost.

One thought on “The Prepaid GPRS Rip-off

  1. Syd from AlienCamel

    Not sure what you mean by a “flat-rate” plan. Do you mean “unlimited volume” or “capped” plans?

    For sure the cents/MB differ a lot from country to country but this is usually reflected by general Internet access costs. Remember that the UK had very high Net access costs until Dixons brought out Freeserve in 1999. Even today a visitor to the UK can’t get Internet access except at Internet cafes (of which there are plenty) or Wifi hotspots. All I want is to be able to dial up with my Mac from someones private home or from a hotel room but the Telcos only allow you to do that if you have a telephone account. This is also the same in Italy, Switzerland and Austria. At least in the US and Australia I can subscribe to an ISP just by giving them a credit card number.

    Given the hassle of getting online via fixed-line technology thank goodness that GPRS is even available!


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