This is about my experience with connecting to the Internet from Europe with an iPhone and MacBook laptop. For $4 dollars a day, this setup provides unlimited 3G internet for an iPhone and a MacBook laptop from any where in Switzerland. Caution: this setup is not easy!
First off, I believe that what is most important about communication on a European Tour is: DATA. I find I don’t need phone or texting service, though texting is nice for communication to ask your wife to buy more wine before coming back to the campground. I find that email and web browsing is what you mostly need during overseas travel. A distant third internet activity would be calling back to North America using Skype, but all three need a data connection, not voice or texting service.
So data communication requires a data plan and what is important here is that plan will need to be an unlimited data plan. Metered data plans usually = costly. We found a prepaid plan from Swisscom, no contact necessary. Here is how it works. Buy the Swisscom Natel SIM card ($19). This gets you access to the Swisscom 3G network, which exists pretty much everywhere in Switzerland. Each day you use the internet, your prepaid account is docked $4CHF (about 4 bucks) and you have unlimited data for that day. The same goes for voice and texting, $3 CHF for voice calling and $2 CHF for texting if you decide to use those services that day. You can easily add additional $10, $20, $30, or $50 amounts to your prepaid account on Swisscom’s website, just provide your Swisscom phone number and your credit card info.
In order to switch from your home carrier to Swisscom’s Natel prepaid plan (or any other European carrier) you need an unlocked iPhone. The unlocked iPhone allows you to use different phone carriers by replacing each carrier’s SIM card. You can only unlock a North American iPhone that has been jail-broken, or purchase one already in Europe. Belgium doesn’t allow phones to be locked. The jail-broken iPhone also allows you to install a tethering program. Tethering allows your iPhone to broadcast its internet connection to your laptop. By tethering my laptop to my iPhone, my laptop has access to the Swisscom’s 3G network.
The iPhone has really great tethering software with iPhone firmware 3.0 but none of the North American carriers support it. What is up with that? The tethering program I installed is called PdaNet. It costs $29 and a free version is available from the Cydia iPhone installer (not the Apple Apps Store). The free version of PdaNet only works for web internet usage and only for 14 days. The paid version allows all types of internet connectivity. There are basically three easy steps for tethering connection to work with PdaNet. First, on a Mac, create a peer-to-peer network under the Airport Menu, the laptop and iphone use a wifi network to pass the internet connection (other tethering programs can do this with Bluetooth or a USB cable). Second, on your iPhone, go to your wifi Settings and select your just created network. Third, launch the PdaNet application. If everything is setup correctly PdaNet will show you your connection stats. Now your laptop has a 3G internet connection – no more looking for wifi cafes.
Another way to reduce your phone carrier costs is to reduce the number of Internet devices that you travel with. In my case, we thought we could live with two iPhones and share one computer, but this would require at least two SIM cards for each iPhone. What I realized after a week in Switzerland, was that we really could live with just one iphone and a laptop computer that have internet connectivity. You can have two or more email, Twitter, GMail, or Facebook accounts on one iPhone and you only buy one prepaid SIM plan from a European carrier. You can reduce your costs even more by sharing your internet gadgets.