Germany has cheap mobile cellular internet with dense network coverage allover the country. With 4 big cellular networks, competition is fierce. But as a foreigner it’s not always so easy to gain access to the German cellular network. Here’s an example of buying prepaid prepay PAYG internet access in Germany – from the O2 network. Bottom line? One needs a bit of luck.
O2 prepaid mobile internet in Germany
O2 is awarded the second best cellular network operator in Germany in 2010. So worth a try after having tested the more expensive T-mobile prepaid internet. In August 2011 – the Saturn computer supplies chain offered the O2 prepaid surfstick with 1 week free internet for just € 9 (limited stock). That’s very cheap – also a perfect opportunity for foreigners. One month 3G flat-rate internet costs € 25,- upto a bandwidth of 5Gb. Above 5Gb bandwidth, connection speed decreases to GSM-GPRS, which is just enough for checking e-mail.
|O2 USB surfstick ZTE MF190 - 3G prepaid prepay PAYG internet in Germany
The 02 surftstick is a ZTE MF190 USB modem – locked to the German O2 network. This means it can’t be used on a different cellphone network / simcard, unless unlocked with special software. All communication software is already on the USB modem pen drive - its plug and play upon insert. But be careful it might change existing internet settings on your laptop / computer.
Buying the O2 surfstick in Germany
The Saturn offer is just too good to be true - € 9 for a 3G USB stick and 1 week free cellular mobile internet. At the sales counter a problem slowly emerged – a foreigner without a German address. Ok – it can be done, but Saturn / O2 company policy states one needs to show official prove where one lives. A passport wasn’t enough, it doesn’t show ones home address. With nothing else than a passport, Saturn sales personnel refused to sell / activate the O2 surfstick. “We need official prove where one lives”.
O2 USB surfstick ZTE MF190 - Saturn offer in Germany with 7 days free internet - limited stock
To smoothen the situation, a discussion started about the actual address required. Is it a temporary address in Germany (Hotel, B&B or campsite?) or the actual foreign home address? It left the Saturn guys baffled, they didn’t know and still refused to sell / activate the O2 surfstick / simcard.
3G internet Surfstick second attempt - German O2 shop
O2 sells the same surfstick for € 29,- also with a week free internet. As already experienced with T-mobile – every activated SIMcard must be registered with the name and (home) address of the buyer / user. But registering a foreign address isn’t a fully straight forward process – one needs a bit of resilience from the sales personal.
The SIM card registering program used at the O2 shop counter had problems accepting a foreign address. Somehow the value in the postcode field was wrong – whatever was entered. Must be a glitch / bug in O2 software.
|O2 USB surfstick ZTE MF190 - with 3G internet prepaid PAYG plan
Unfortunately this occurred after the person at the sales counter agreed – after some persuasion - in entering a home address on a handwritten note. A passport usually doesn’t show the actual address where some-one is living. Though an identity card / drivers license might.
In the end the address of the O2 shop was entered and accepted by the simcard registering software at the sales counter. It was plain luck, this definitely doesn’t fly at other O2 shops.
Activating the 3G USB O2 surfstick simcard
A pretty straightforward process – the software on the O2 USB surfstick installed without a problem. When launched the ZTE Connection Manager pops up – attempting to connect to the O2 mobile cellular network. A small popup screen on the bottom right corner confirms the O2 simcard is accepted on the network. Trying this with a different simcard (vodafone) results in a popup window with just “error”. Ok, the surfstick is simlocked but it’s not reported like that.
|Mobile Connection Manager version 188.8.131.528 - ZTE MF190 USB modem with O2 simcard
The 1 month plan is activated through the O2Credit button. The menu leads to "Internet Pack L" which costs € 25, valid for one month. Topping up balance goes through scratchcards (€ 15 and € 30) available at petrol stations.
Throttling of 3G internet speed
O2 throttles internet speed to GSM-GPRS when the bandwidth limit is reached. The 1 week free internet is not with unlimited bandwidth - dream on. The bandwidth size seems to be set somewhere around 1Gb or less. Although a 3G UMTS/HSPDA signal is available, the O2 modem can only connect at GSM-GPRS speed - which is interesting and asks for a bit of experimentation.
For starters the account balance was topped up with € 15. However not yet spend on any internet package. As a top-up bonus O2 shipped this text / SMS message:
"Lieber Kunde, für Ihre 1. Aufladung haben wir Ihnen die Gratis-Flatrate ins dt. o2 Netz für einen zusätzlichen Monat aktiviert. Ihr o2 Team"
meaning the free week internet was extended with 1 month extra. The O2 ZTE MF190 USB modem could still connect, however at GPRS speed. When the SIMCARD was used in a different modem - suddenly 3G UMTS/HSPDA speed was there again. Without spending the € 15,- balance yet.
It's still to be discovered how much bandwidth is associated with 1 month free internet - top-up bonus. O2 sells 1 month internet with 5Gb bandwidth. Let's see. Same experience? Drop me a note.
Traveling to Poland? read about 3G prepaid internet in Poland.
O2 network coverage in rural Germany
Most of the rural places visited in the area between Poland and The Netherlands at the height between Braunschweig and Erfurt had GSM-EDGE coverage with a few exceptions to either GPRS (slower) or UMTS (faster).
The bigger cities in general all have UMTS, however at the outskirts it’s not uncommon to find GSM-EDGE coverage. For T-mobile there’s a bit better UMTS coverage, but it’s prepaid 3G internet service is simply too expensive to use it for GMS-EDGE.
A similar rural network coverage (GSM-EDGE) has been found in France, Spain and Portugal. The Netherlands is a bit of an exception where most places have UMTS coverage already. Not surprisingly – it’s a small country with high population density – the return on UMTS investment is much higher compared to much bigger European countries.
Below a few links related to the O2 prepaid surfstick available in Germany:
Traveling to the Netherlands? Have a look at 3G prepaid internet in Holland.