Earlier this week WOMWorld Nokia sent me to Berlin for Microsoft Tech.Ed Europe. Naturally I needed to have data service on my N8 for the trip. My T-Mobile US prepaid SIM doesn’t allow voice or data roaming anywhere outside of North America and even if it did I can’t afford the obscene rates that US operators charge for roaming. So I did what I always do when traveling internationally which is to try and buy a local prepaid SIM as soon after I land as possible.
I knew it tricky as my flight arrived in Berlin at 7:05 PM and most German shops close at eight. Looking at my favorite online resources for researching European prepaid SIM prices; the Pay as You Go Sim with Data Wiki and PrePaidGSM.net, it looked like my best bet would be Fonet, an MVNO that uses the O2 network and offers unlimited data for 2.50€/day. An added plus with Fonet is that voice calls are only 0.09€/minute to German, UK, US, Canadian and European landlines.
Fonet SIMs are sold at LIDL supermarkets and at DM and Rossmann, which are big chain drug and knickknack stores similar to Walgreens in the US. Using Google Maps I located several Rossmann and DM stores within a couple of km of my hotel including one Rossmann that was open until 9. My plane arrived a little early and I grabbed a cab and gave the driver the address of the Rossmann. Berlin’s Tegel airport is close to the city center and the cab ride only took about 20 minutes. Which was a good thing as Rossmann, or at least this particular one, didn’t have SIMs of any kind. I headed to a DM a couple of blocks away. I got there a few minutes before closing and bingo! there were a dozen Fonic SIMs hanging on a peg in their impenetrable tamper proof plastic packaging.
The Fonet SIM is 9.95€ and comes with 10€ of credit. You have to activate it online on the German-only Fonic website. I used these step by step instructions in English which worked perfectly.
I had no luck activating the 2.50€/day flat rate data, however. Supposedly you just have to send a text containing the words START TAGESFLAT to 36642 (F-O-N-I-C). I did that and got a text back telling me to confirm activation by replying with JA, which I did. I immediately got another text thanking me for activating the flat rate data flat rate but warning that it can take some time before it becomes active. As far as I could tell the flat rate data never activated. You can check your balance on Fonet by using the service code *101#. The 2.50€ was never deducted but I was charged a few Euro cents every time I used data. I tried to activate the day flat tariff three times over the course of 24 hours with the same lack of results.
Fortunately Fonet’s ad-hoc data rate is a fairly reasonable 0.24€/MB and I was able to use WiFi at both my hotel and the Berlin Messe conference center where I spent most of my time, so the the 10€ lasted through the two and a half days I was in Germany.
Fonic tells you to use the APN pinternet.interkom.de with no username, password or proxy. However because Fonic runs on Q2 you can actually use any APN. I found the N8 connection wizard recognized the Fonet SIM as an O2 one and configured the phone to default to using the O2 APN surf02, which worked fine. I changed the APN to pinternet.interkom.de just in case that was required for the data plan activation but it didn’t help.
O2 coverage in Berlin was excellent with a strong HSDPA signal almost everywhere I went.
I’m a little reluctant to recommend Fonet to travelers because of the difficulties I had getting flat rate data working. I don’t know if it was a temporary system glitch, false advertising, or some step that this clueless, language challenged traveler overlooked. If any reader has an idea why the data day plan didn’t activate please let me know in the comments.