An American Windows Phone in Europe

I was curious to see how Windows Phone responded to the data roaming needs we’re going to have in Germany over the next three weeks. For the previous three years, of course, we’ve had an iPhone of some kind with us, and AT&T/Apple’s handling of this kind of thing improved dramatically over time. Today, from the (iPhone) device or on the web, we can add and remove features on the fly. So right before we left, I added the following two international features:

  • AT&T World Traveler $5.99 – Slightly discounted international calling (99 cents vs. $1.29 per minute)
  • 200 MB Data Global Add-On $199.99

I disable these when I get home.

When the iPhone first came out, the device was on EDGE, and there were no international data options. I wrote about bringing the original iPhone to France in 2007 on my old Nexus blog.

Today, there are data plans, and you can make changes to your phone features on the device (using AT&T’s iPhone app) or on the web. You don’t have to call AT&T anymore.

These are pretty huge improvements.

Anyway, when I got the Windows Phone prototype, I popped my iPhone’s AT&T SIM in and rebooted and have been using it exclusively since. I intend to do so in Europe this month as well.

Upon arriving in Germany, I was greeted by a lock screen like this (I changed the photo to a shot from our previous trip here, in 2003):


The new bit, so to speak, is that triangle at the top. That indicates you’re roaming. So the phone’s status bar now looks like so:


Intelligently, and unlike the iPhone 3G originally (I forget how it works now), Windows Phone automatically disables data access while roaming. So if you want to access data over the cellular connection, you need to navigate to All Programs, Settings, Cellular. There’s an option called “Data roaming options” which is set to “Don’t roam.” Just change that to “Roam” and you’re good to go.

Because Windows Phone isn’t even out yet, there’s no custom AT&T app for monitoring data/voice/messaging usage. (The one for iPhone is excellent.) However, you can use the AT&T Wireless web site for that, or just check from time to time on the PC.

I’m curious to see how the data usage adds up. I picked the most expensive option for data based on my usage on previous trips to Europe, and compared to the bills I’ve had after some of those trips, $200 is a (comparative) bargain.

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40 Responses to An American Windows Phone in Europe

  1. gpsarakis says:

    Does the lock screen have any sorta options you could change btw? If you notice from the picture you’ve put up, simple white text without any sorta thin/thick dark outline gets lost when a photo with something white is used. Like the A in Augest, sure you can make it out more or less, but if you used some other pic with more “white” how can you make out the text/icons?

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      So, looking at the actual phone, the white in “August” (and all the text) is actually much brighter than it is on the building. So you can still see the text OK.

      But this got me wondering. So I made a plain white JPEG and sycned it to the phone, and made that the lock screen wallpaper, just to see what would happen. And sure enough, you can still see the text: The white background is transformed into a very light gray. So Windows Phone must be doing something to whites, at least in the lock screen, to ensure that the overlayed text always can be read.

      Interesting. :)

      • gpsarakis says:

        Oh, that’s very interesting indeed. Good to know, since my eyesight isn’t the best and white text on white backgrounds just tends to get lost for me.

  2. Matthew Guay says:

    Have you ever tried using a prepaid sim card for internet access in Europe? I’ve never been to Europe, so I don’t know for there, but in Thailand you can get a prepaid sim card that lets you get 20 hours of internet access (no download cap, just time limited) for around $3.50 USD, or unlimited internet for around $30/month. That was for EDGE access, and I’m not sure what the 3G rates are, but I’m sure it works out much cheaper than AT&T international. Though, of course, that only works if you phone is carrier unlocked…

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      I haven’t, but I should… If you don’t mind using land lines, a pre-paid phone card is also a lot cheaper for calls.

      I’ll check in at some wireless stores here and see what I can find out.

      • urpert says:


        You should be in luck in Germany particularly – in most European countries you can pick up a pay as you go SIM for free, and generally there are deals available which convert part of your top-up into a time-limited data allowance. (France is the major exception – prepay deals are years behind the UK in terms of what you get for your money and whether it expires in a fixed time, *and* you have to pay €20 for the SIM, and theoretically have a postal address in France!)

        Incidentally, all of my iPhones (UK bought) have had data roaming disabled by default. Probably just as well considering O2 charge £3/mb for data roaming – AT&T sounds like a bargain by comparison.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        AT&T gets a lot of crap, but honestly, the customer service stuff is first rate, and their support has been amazing. The network, not so great. but I’m discovering it’s not as bad on Windows Phone. And go figure, but I have yet to drop a single call on Windows Phone. I dropped calls on every iPhone model constantly. I’m not saying this is “proof” of anything. Not yet. But it’s starting to make me wonder. Of course, I’ll be away most of August, so my unscientific comparison is on hold.

      • bleeman13 says:

        Interesting that you should mention you are not getting dropped calls on AT&T with your Windows Phone. I have observed the same thing. I have the HTC Tilt 2 with AT&T while my boss has an iPhone 3Gs. Quite often we have been at the same location and he’ll have trouble getting a signal or dropping a call and everything will work without issue for me. I’m not saying I haven’t had dropped calls and/or low signal, but I have found it interesting as to how often I haven’t had an issue while he has. I have been waiting to see the iPhone on another carrier just because I’ve been curious if all the issues were the AT&T Network or an issue with the iPhone. With the antenna problems with the iPhone4 it made me further wonder if there wasn’t some type of issue with the phone versus the network it was on. I guess only time will tell.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        Yep. It’s pretty clear that at least some of the blame we’ve foisted on AT&T over the past years has, in fact, been Apple’s fault.

  3. Pingback: WP7 Tip : Data is disabled when in roaming — windows phone 7 apps / WP7 games / Windows Mobile Software

  4. 1800pocketpc says:

    That is a nice feature.

    Off Topic : is it true that embedded images will not show up when you open up an email even from senders in your contact list ?

  5. Onno Willems says:

    “Intelligently, and unlike the iPhone 3G originally (I forget how it works now)…”
    This is exactly like on an iPhone: Settings->General->Network->”Data Roaming” which is set to OFF by default. There is even some help text below the switch that explains what data roaming is. This has been on iPhone 3GS since launch and also on the 3G as far as I know.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      Yeah, I know it’s been improved a lot. And AT&T sends a nice free text message when you’re roaming to remind you.

  6. dairym says:

    This is certainly better than KIN, where if you go abroad you will be charged insane amounts of data costs because of the constant updating/uploading to Studio. This happens even when you supposedly disable data roaming manually. >:-(

  7. Pingback: Windows Phone 7 Automatically Turns Off Data When Roaming « Anton D. Nagy – Blog

  8. cernajose says:

    I did that when I when I went to Mexico, I set my cell phone to forward to to my google voice and then I would just check voice mail an txt msg via the web. I got a cell phone and data ready SIM card from telcel for about $40 and thats all I needed. I used an unlocked touch pro2 and I was able to tether that to my laptop. If I needed to call someone I would wait for a land line but I gave my Mexican number to those that I saw would need it. I spent no more than $100 on internet and voice for the 30 days I was there. Paul can you use windows phone 7 as a mobile hot spot? I will really miss that from my touch pro 2.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      I can’t discuss tethering/hot spot stuff at this point, sorry.

      • blkballoon925 says:

        I thought the NDA has been lifted since at least Windows Weekly 166 on July 22, 2010. That’s what was discussed on that episode of the show. I’m not trying to call you out on it or anything, but I must admit I am confused.

        @cernajose From what I’ve read, WP7 does not have a DUN Bluetooth profile, so I would suspect that it simply does not have tethering support, as it would be unusual for it to only support USB tethering. Then again, maybe they will do something radical (aka different) like only including WiFi tethering? Or perhaps they’ll add USB tethering support through the Zune software, or a Bluetooth DUN profile will simply be added in a future update? Who knows what they’ll do.

        I personally speculate that either: it will launch without any promise of initial nor future tethering support and 3rd parties will develop WP7 versions of software like WMWiFiRouter, and/or WP7 will not ship with tethering support initially, but Microsoft will promise it to come in a future update.

        I don’t know if Microsoft will let 3rd parties put tethering apps in the Marketplace, so it may only become possible by sideloading an app onto the phone, and require whatever the WP7 analog to jailbreaking or rooting might be.

        Moreover, I fear that if MS does add tethering support, it may not be unrestricted as in Windows Mobile. Specifically, that it will be iPhone-like with carrier lockdowns that enforce the tethering plan requirement. I don’t mind paying more for tethering, as I do now; but I would prefer to not have to buy a data card and separate data plan for the occasional mobile Internet access that I use (less than 150MB/month). Despite the negative connotation associated with tethering, it is legitimate with the correct plan. Now that AT&T has instituted its capped plans (and speculation says Verizon will do the same within a month or two), I don’t see why there would be any carrier objection to its inclusion in WP7 at this point.

        I find the whole mystery behind it (not just from Paul, but from Microsoft and the entire community of tech reporters as well) quite baffling since they’ve already revealed many of the “popular let-downs” that frequent media reports like the lack of cut-and-paste and limited multitasking. However, this complete silence regarding tethering only makes me think that if there’s no news, then they must be hiding disappointing news.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        Regarding the NDA, that’s true for the phone. There is no tethering on the development device. But then I have some other longer-term concerns because of the book, so many of the conversations I have with MS with regards to the platform, launch, etc. are still under NDA.

        And for whatever it’s worth, I’d rather discuss everything publicly as soon as possible. But in order to get the early access to the system, I had to agree to a few things, which I assume is understandable. I guess I’d say that your observations about the way tethering/data is going with wireless carriers is, of course, accurate.

      • blkballoon925 says:

        Thank you for the clarification. I appreciate all that you’ve done in documenting your experience with Windows Phone 7 thus far. Despite what we may find out about these features in the future before and after launch, I’m still excited about the platform and I hope that Microsoft will complete the OS with these features if they do not make initial launch. I know they’ve promised cut-and-paste, but power users and long-time Windows Mobile users are losing more than CC&P and I know you know that. I just worry that with Microsoft fully-focused on launch and not discussing a planned update schedule or roadmap that they might have lost sight of what they need long-term. Perhaps they have one now and they haven’t announced it, I’m not sure? But as of what I last read regarding updates on WP7, they simply said that they could do updates OTA and via Zune Software, but they did not say how frequently they intended to update WP7 devices.

  9. mdtauk says:

    With the text colour on the lock screen, does this change to black when you are using the Light theme, or is it always White, no matter what!

  10. kallekenkel says:

    Hi Paul,
    here in Germany you can get prepaid cards from all the major carriers. T-Mobile, in my opinion, has the best network.
    Are you making any public appearances over here? Talk about the book maybe?

  11. savage0119 says:

    The easiest way to get a German prepaid SIM-Card with Data Plan is ALDI TALK. You can buy it at any ALDI Store in Germany (they are nearly everywhere).

    The 30 day “Flatrate” with 5 GB cap is 14,99 Euros.

    As I live in Germany, feel free to ask if you have questions.

  12. michaeltal says:

    If by any chance you are traveling in the Munich-area and need someone to show you around, just let me know :)

  13. swarnock2525 says:

    “Upon arriving in Germany, I was greeted by a lock screen like this (I changed the photo to a shot from our previous trip here, in 2003):”

    I guess this means no location awareness built in to the phone? I know during the Windows 7 MSDN blitz that was one of the things Microsoft showed off in Win 7 (location aware backgrounds). I think that would be a great feature for WP7 to automaically pick(or the user to curate) lock screens based on your location.

  14. dkzweitausend says:

    hey paul, daniel here!
    do me a favor and dont go to aldi-talk! its based on eplus the smallest of the big four german carriers. that means you hardly get umts speed.
    here are the carrier charts in germany
    1 tmobile
    2 vodafone
    3 o2
    4 eplus
    tm & vf are pretty close, o2 right behind and then there is a gap and then eplus comes.

    my recommondation would by thibo (behind them is o2)

    500megs = 10eu
    5000megs = 20eu
    for a whole month but once the megs are used the speed is gprs speed only!

    you can get them at tchibo find your store here

    they sell coffee (not to go i mean in not liquid bean or dust form ;) ) and by now some other stuff. sometimes they were a store themselfs, sometimes they re included in some other store or they got some tchibo shelves inside another store.

    you need a starterpaket (a sim for 10eu but already with 10eu loaded), and a additional 10EU card, for the 5gigs.

    the thing is that you can only get that 10eu card in a “real” tchibo store* not the store in store. there the lowest is the 20eu cashcard.

    at your swap home the sim needs to be registered (its a law) but via internet your ready to go in max 24h.

    then load the sim with that cashcard (guthaben). send the sms to activate your dataplan and confirm it by a second as your told.

    in a tchibo store they even activate it for yo u i think. mine was from a shelf in another store.

    if you cant get them activated write me and i will use my name/id to do it for you.

    i mailed you before (kulka was the last name, about how cod4 mw2 was censored in germany btw you cant activate us/uk steam mw2 keys anymore! old activations work fine but no new ones!).

    once you sent the 2nd msg you ll receive an answer when your dataplan expires…
    set apn to webmobil1 and you are ready to go.

    sorry for the lazy texting, i am on holiday at barcelona (eu trip roma,vienna barcelona and berlin) and only have a sony experia x1 with a custom fw wm 6.5 which is just lightspeed fast compared to sony last fw. and an owful hw keyboard!

    greetings from barcelona via wlan! ;)

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      Thanks for this. I’m not sure if I’ll need additional data while here, but if I do, I will refer to this.

      I did get a SIM from e-plus, but just for calls. It was about 9 euros. I jailbroke my iPhone 3GS to unlock it, put the e-plus SIM in there, and now my wife can use that to call me when she’s out with the kids (or whatever) and I’m working.

      The Windows Phone has my normal AT&T SIM in it, and I’ve loaded that up with a 2 GB international data plan for the month, so I’ll burn through that and see how it goes.



  15. dkzweitausend says:

    the urls seem session based, i hate that things.

    to locate a store near you go on the upper right to “filiale suchen” and then enter the german zipcode of your city.

    to get infos how to activate your “dataplan go from the main tchibo page to “mobilfunk” a bit lower than “filiale suchen”. followed by “mobiles internet”.

    the downside is that a call to the us is 2eu per minute. perhaps using a seperate mobile would solve this issue…

  16. dkzweitausend says:

    Jailbraking your phone on vacation?!? What about real vacation with no electronic gizmos whatsoever?
    Kind of ironic writing that on my xperia x1 while I am on vacation in barcelona but you know what I mean… ;)

    And btw there goes your 3gs gypsy replace iphone warrenty! Hope your wife won’t loose it! ;)

    Wish you a nice stay and watch the signal quality of the 3gs, if it falls back to gprs from time to time and just let me know if its still not that reliable…
    And who’s AT&Ts roaming partner in germany anyway?

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      I just want to be able to call my wife. :)

      The Windows Phone (with AT&T SIM) is connecting to Viag Interkom here in Weingarten.

  17. dkzweitausend says:

    Sure, funny though that your roaming partner is actually o2. viag interkomm was bought by the spanish telefonica in 2006. Don’t ask me why it still says viag interkom, maybe long term roaming contracts or something.

    So you actually can compare the singal strenght of both carriers, at least as long as the iphone has already the “we always calculated the signal strength the wrong way” update… ;) or was that a iphone4 exlusive problem? I don’t think so…

    Has microsoft reveald how they calculate the bars on wp7?

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