Travelers shocked by high Wi-Fi prices in Europe

Ian Williams writes about travelers still being confronted with high prices for Wi-Fi access: “Travelers accessing the internet from Wi-Fi connections at hotels, airport lounges and cafes are being ripped off by high and confusing charges, according to online travel agent Despite offering similar levels of service in many cases, rates can vary by up to 1,100 per cent within a single area, the report said. The investigation found that hotels with a lower star rating are more likely to offer free Wi-Fi access than international chains or five star hotels, where rates can be up to €21.00 (£18) per hour to connect.”

In my experience, Europe has the highest prices for Wi-Fi. Swisscom, which operates a number of Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels, has some of the highest prices and the worst service.

A lot of people have complained about Swisscom, including science fiction writer, Cory Doctorow, who immortalized their awful service in one of his novels, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (see related post with excerpt from the novel).

In a BoingBoing post from 2006, Cory wrote: “Ben Hammersley may have found the highest Swisscom fee yet: £480 per 24 hours for non-guests using the conference spaces in London’s Victoria Park Plaza hotel. That’s $838.73 a day. For WiFi. Not even good WiFi.”

Dean Bubley writes in Swisscom – the worst offender in public WiFi? (November 2008):

One of those hammering nails into its coffin is undoubtedly Swisscom. I always wince when I find out that they’re the provider of what’s euphemistically called a “service” at a conference venue. Today I was at the Femtocell Deployment conference at the Hilton Amsterdam. The irony of a 27 Euro daily fee for Wi-Fi access at an event talking about cheap and effective 3G indoor coverage was palpable. Of course, I could have opted for the “basic” access of 256kbit/s and no VoIP, for a bargain 22 Euros. In the end, I used neither, and picked up email headers via cellular roaming at a (comparably) sane 2 Euros per MB – itself a travesty, but that’s another story. But the real kicker was this – during a discussion last night, a certain mobile/WiFi operator was named as the villain by a separate conference organiser, this time wanting to charge $54,000 (yes, you read that right) for providing delegate access at a proposed future event.

Fortunately, much has changed in Europe in the past five years. In Amsterdam, most cafes, including those operated by The Coffee Company, offer free Wi-Fi. There’s also a lot of free Wi-Fi in London. If you are a Boingo subscriber, you will be pleased to know that they have added many airports to their roaming plan. Next time, before you book a hotel, check first if they have Swisscom’s Wi-Fi service. If they do, avoid them.


  1. You’re right, CoffeeCompany does indeed offer free Wi-Fi to their customers.

    But they use the Wi-Fi menu as a way to advertise their food and drink menu!

  2. In The Netherlands, there are indeed many outlets offering free WiFi on their own.
    Coffee Company offers one hour of free WiFi with each cashregister-ticket, yet they don’t offer this in the franchised locations (e.g. Dam Square, Amsterdam), which only has a closed private network for employees.
    Starbucks, known for their WiFi service, is only located on Schiphol Airport so far, and doesn’t offer WiFi.
    McDonalds has paid WiFi.
    The HaJe restaurants have unlimited free WiFi at decent speeds.

    In Switzerland, you can get a free half hour of internet at McDonalds, offered by Orange. It’s slow and sometimes it doesn’t even work, you’ll feel like using a GPRS internet connection, but heck, beggers can’t be choosers.. 😉
    Starbucks offers a free half hour with each purchase, yet they usually give 2 hours of half an hour each when it’s not too busy; you don’t even need to ask for the extra voucher. Service by Swisscom and, as with McDonalds, very slow. I compared it by buying some access which is also a possibility to see if free connections were capped and paid connections weren’t, yet came to the conclusion the speeds were exactly the same. No need to spend an extra buck on that, then…

    Don’t really have experience in other countries except for using open WiFi spots.

    A general place to get cheap WiFi is a Fon hotspot, of which many thousands are all over the world. It can even be free if you agree to share your own internet-connection at home with a propriety Fon router (Fonera) which should get you many legal opportunities abroad to use WiFi.

  3. hey have you guys heard of mificlub? it’s pretty cool. portable wifi hotspots that’s pretty affordable.