Techie Abroad: Pre-paid SIM card in Italy is a pain if you don’t speak Italian
Whilst I have no proof or research to quote from, I am pretty sure that Italians must rank up there as some of the most friendly people in the world. Learn a couple of words or phrases in Italian, and they are very happy to assist you with anything. So my experience with Vodafone has come as a surprise as I spend days trying to get my very expensive pre-paid SIM card to work.
Here is my tale of sorrow and some lessons learnt:
Day 1 – When I arrived in Italy, the plan was to hire a car and use my Blackberry Z10 phone’s maps to navigate around. Why pay the rental company extra 120 euros for a GPS? For my mobile phone plan to work, I would need a SIM with data loaded on it. Contrary to various forums, at the Venice airport there are no cell phone outlets. The nearest Vodafone outlet is at a shopping mall about 15 minutes from the airport in a place called Marconi. At the Vodafone shop, the sales person spoke a little English and explained that in Italy you can not make your cell phone device a hot spot so if I wanted to have my tablet connected too I would need a specific SIM for that. I landed up purchasing a SIM for my phone for 7 euros that gives my 500 minutes on calls, 500 SMS and 2GB data. I also purchased a Tablet SIM for 25 euros that give me 5GB of data. Plus had to pay for the SIMs too which all totalled 40 euros. At a rough calculation of R13 to the euro that works out at around R520 ! <gulp> still cheaper than hiring a GPS and I would have my devices connected to the net which is what us techies need.
So now we ready to hit the road, I piled the family into the rented car and I fired up my Z10 Navigation. It routes me to my destination without too much trouble. Navigating the autostrada (highway) is straight forward and the BlackBerry’s excellent mapping keep you on the right track. What I also like about the BlackBerry maps is that they give you the traffic information on route as well as announce the street name that you need to turn onto. This means that I could keep my eyes on the road and verify that the street is correct instead of looking down as the device looking for the street name. If you know how the Italians drive, you know that you need to keep both eye on the road at all times to avoid the thousands of scooters.
So far so good.
Day 2 – About to leave a waterpark to head back to the hotel and my phone has no data available and I get a message in Italian that I can only assume means I am out of data. That is not possible as I have had the SIM for less than 24 hours. Luckily I have my Galaxy Note 8 so was going to use that to navigate back to my hotel. When I switch that on, I get the same SMS saying I have no more data. There is no way I used 5GB of data in 24 hours on a tablet that only has Google Maps as well as 2GB of data on my BlackBerry!
I call Customer Services only to realise that apparently Vodafone has not heard of the English language. There is simply no way to change the menu options on the IVR into English. There is no way to tell the system that you don’t speak Italian and need to have your SMS sent to you in English (or any other language). I spent very frustrating hours trying to speak to any human operator to help me solve my no-data problem. However, no matter what number I called, no matter what I pressed 1 for this and 2 for that, I could not get to speak to an operator. I even tried just pressing 0 or 9 hoping but that did not work either. Looking online for solutions only resulted in more frustration. The Vodafone in Italy speaks Italian only.
I found their Twitter handle and sent them a messages asking for help. I received a Tweet back saying that someone will call me back in two days time….eh… this is how I am navigating Italy. No data is a real issue and two days time just seems way too long to wait.
Day 3 – I still cant find anyone or any online article to assist, so I attempt to convince the kids that we are heading to a new shopping centre as part of our Italian road trip but they could see right through me and counter with ice-scream request after I find a Vodafone store. At the Vodafone shop, after explaining my problem, I initially got that “you must have used your data” look but when I showed the sales assistant the various SMS, she agreed that it is indeed not possible. After repeatedly calling their own internal call centre, she eventually got a hold of someone who tried the oldest trick in the book: “switch off and on again in a hour”…as I can’t argue in Italian, I did just that and amazingly it did not work. No kidding. I then went back to the shop and then they told me to update my setting to a new APN. When I did it, the tablet data came flying back. I was told maybe I changed it? The old APN settings were: mobile.Vodafone.it the new APN settings are: web.omnitel.it – not even close enough for me to guess those.
So now I have the tablet working but my Z10 data is still not. They can’t help me with this issue as the 7 euros promotion was so popular they are only taking support queries via their Forums. In Italian. Problem. Did I mention Non-Parle Italiano ? (I dont speak Italian)
Day 4 – I now don’t trust this data service at all. Sometime it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In order not to get stuck somewhere in the Italian countryside, I need a plan B that can both get me to the destination and at the same time save my data cost. I devices to save Data costs, what I can do is set up the entire destination on Google Maps from point A to B whilst using the hotel WiFi. As long as I don’t get lost, the system keeps tracking my movement on the road with or without data. Obviously if I take the wrong turn, it will not reroute me without data. The other backup idea is that when I am in the hotel I use the WiFi to set up my route and then I take a screen shot of the direction of where I am going to. In the event that the data stops, I can navigate with the direction screen shot.
Now I fully accept that the entire world doesn’t speak English. I fully understand that when you visit a foreign country they have their way of doing things. But this is Vodafone after all – one of the world’s leading cellular provider. Surely I am not the first non-Italian to have issues? Surely they can route calls to India or London or some other country for English speaking people to get support? In my travels, I have found that in South Africa, in the Netherlands, in the USA, in Israel you have a language options when you call customer service. Once you select English, then all the menus and operators speak English.
What is very frustrating is that not only did I pay R520 for some connectivity I can sometime use, I am now in a position where I am not getting anywhere with Vodafone and have to make a decision to start this all over again with another company. And spend another R520 just to get online.
ps. I am still waiting for that English speaking customer services person from Vodafone to call me…