French mobile data, VPNs and email

Just got back from a 10-day holiday in Paris, which was great, apart from the fact that, as many IT professionals will understand, you still need to stay on top of your email.

I could have taken my trusty Blackberry, but since my journalist's job involves a lot of web surfing, I really needed a notebook.

So I took my Samsung netbook with me, VPNing back into my server for incoming email and file access.

And since mobile data costs a bomb across Europe - three pounds a megabyte with my mobile broadband provider, O2 - I elected to prepay 50 megabytes at 50 pounds.

Since we had wireless broadband in the flat we had rented, this allowed me to relax, safe in the knowledge that I had all my options covered.

Then I discovered that French ISPs - as a man - do not support relaying of outbound email, even authenticated email.

This meant that, whilst I could receive email, whenever I wanted to reply, I had to use my mobile broadband dongle to send it.

With 50 megabytes to go at - no problem.

Except that O2's mobile broadband network was up and down several times during late August, meaning that roaming in France was also up and down for several days.

And the final icing on the cake is that O2's charging structure means you can never get your full 50 megabytes of data - it's applied on a pro-rata basis in each charging period.

For me this meant I only had 22 megabytes of data available during my ten days in Paris.

I just about scraped through using 21.7 megabytes in one charging period and 2.8 megabytes in the next.

Complaints to O2 customer service about the charging structure and the less than reliable roaming service in France met with zero recompense, despite the fact that I spent more than 100 pounds with O2 during the month in question.

The good news is that my three O2 fixed line broadband lines (don't ask) and two mobile accounts are up for renewal later this year.

I don't think O2 is going to get my business. The problem is - the other mobile networks also have patchy reputations in terms of reliability and customer service. What a dogs dinner.


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