Review: Mobile Phone Service while abroad

While preparing for a trip to Europe this summer, I spent quite a bit of time researching various options for international mobile phone service. Unlike past trips out of the US, where I mainly stayed in a resort, this time I wanted access to my smart phone's GPS and mapping apps. Between my traveling companion and I we had three devices we were planning to bring, an AT&T iPhone with their Passport package enabled, a T-Mobile iPad with it's free international data and a OneSim Card in an unlocked iPhone.

AT&T Passport - Silver Plan

The Numbers

Price $60 
Voice $0.50 a minute
Text Unlimited
Data 300MB

AT&T offers a variety of international Passport plans that work in conjunction with your existing phone service.  Plans start around $30.  We used the Silver plan, which is $60.  This plan is an add-on for existing AT&T plans. It's active for 30 days from the time you start the service. It keeps your existing number, and is relatively simple to add to your plan.  The Passport plan works in dozens of countries.  One thing I liked, when we had used about 80% of the data we received a text message from AT&T warning us we were almost out of data.  On the Silver plan data overages is twenty cents per MB.

T-Mobile - Simple Choice

The Numbers

Price Free
Voice Varies (~$0.20 a minute for many European countries)
Text Unlimited
Data Unlimited (Throttled)

This service is included with most T-Mobile phone plans. The coverage varies, so check out their website to see if your destination is included, and what the voice rates are. Also note, that the data service is free - but throttled. It was slow but reliable, and a great backup option for when we ran low on our other data plans. 

OneSim Card - Plus Sim

The Numbers

Price $19.95 for the Card, loaded with $50 ($69.99 Total Cost) 
Voice $ 0.49 a minute
Text $ 0.25 per SMS
Data Off Plan ~$0.25 a MB, using a discount plan (2 week data pass is 500MB for $45)

By far the most complicated option. It's very hard to nail down what things actually cost, and their website is a little challenging to navigate. That being said it's the most flexible option, with many data packages available. It also gives you both a US number and a European number, so you can avoid steep international rates if you're going to be recieving incoming calls. 

The Verdict

All of the providers had fairly consistent service across Spain, France and Italy.  

Both AT&T and OneSim had us constantly watching our data usage. Smartphones go through data rapidly, and the data usage metrics on your phone may not be 100% accurate. We both found that our plans ran out before the phone stated we had use that much data. It's also worth noting we were constantly putting the phones in airplane mode to stop their background services from using unplanned data. 

T-Mobile was by far the slowest, with the data speeds crawling along. However I found it worked well enough to get work done, check location etc. I even used it as a hotspot for my phone when we were in Monaco, and we didn't have wi-fi in our hotel room. 

If speed isn't a concen - I'd go with T-Mobile. Having unlimited data relieves you from constant monitoring. If you're going to want faster speeds, I'd recommend OneSim. The pre-paid nature allows you to have control over your usage, and avoid unexpected charges when you get your next month's bill.