My recent holiday in Italy was two weeks long, and I didn’t want to remain completely out of touch, especially since one of the servers I look after has been a bit flaky lately, so some sort of mobile data was a requirement.
Normally, I’d simply use Orange Travel Data Daily, which provides me with up to 50Mb of data per day, for £7 plus VAT, which currently works out at £8.40 per day. That would have been over £100 for my holiday, which I felt was a bit much. So, I decided it was worth getting a local SIM card.
A check on this site suggested the 3 package was a good deal; obviously to be able to do this you’ll need a 3G phone that’s not locked. That’s not a problem for me, as I bought my E72 direct from Nokia, but if you have a contract phone you will need to get it unlocked beforehand, though since doing so could save you a lot of money, it’s worth it.
What you get with 3
The package with 3 Italia is called 3Power10 with the Super Internet option. I popped into the 3 store at Roma Termini railway station when I arrived – it’s in the underground shopping mall, and the staff understood enough English to help me out. A photocopy of your passport will be taken when you buy a SIM.
The USIM was €10, with an initial €5 top-up to activate it. For the first month, you get an option of your choice free, and you need to ask for that to be the internet option. The SIM has €3 credit, so for your €15 outlay, you’ll get a total of €8 to use, and the internet option, which is 100MB per day. After the first month you’ll have to pay €5 per month for the internet option, which is still pretty good value, and if you’re just on holiday for a couple of weeks, you don’t need to worry about it.
There are a couple of things to watch out for, however, which may result in you using up credit when you don’t expect to. First, the internet option apparently isn’t activated until the next day (midnight to be exact), so you’ll be paying for any browsing you do immediately. Secondly, although coverage was on the whole pretty good, at times it falls back to a partner 2G network ‘TIM’ and you pay for data when you’re connected to that. So don’t start a massive upload or download if you see ‘TIM’ on your phone screen rather than ‘3’ or ‘3 ITA.’ You could avoid this by setting your phone to UMTS (3G) only, but personally I think the small extra cost is probably worth it.
Setting things up
Setup was pretty straightforward; the packaging for the SIM gives your Italian phone number, and the SIM’s PIN, which you may need depending on how your phone is configured. You’ll receive a few texts in Italian welcoming you to 3, plus a configuration message which you should save, as it will update the settings on your phone (including the browser home page, of which more later).
When you get a message that starts “L’opzione Super Internet e’ attiva” then your internet option should be active.
Over the time I was in Italy, I topped up twice, by €10 each time. I was left with about €5 unused, but even so, for a total cost of €35 (about £30), that’s much better value than even the Travel Data Daily, which would have cost me more in just four days.
You might be worrying that using a PAYG SIM is going to be tricky if you don’t speak Italian, but don’t panic. I did plenty of screen grabs here, so you can see exactly how to get by with 3 Italia.
Checking your credit and usage
The configuration message will automatically set your phone browser’s home page to the 3 Portal – or at least it did on my phone. If for some reason it didn’t, try going to http://portale3.tre.it and see if that works.
When you get to the portal, you’ll see a long list of icons, with things like music, video, various adverts, and plenty more. If you want to put a SIM in a phone for the kids, do bear in mind that when you access this page late at night, the offers and links may be different – I was rather startled by the frankness of a button offering ‘Porno Anal’ for €4.
Scroll down the page, and just past ‘Il meglio del Web’ (the best of the web), you’ll see icons like the three shown here. You want ‘133 Area Clienti’ which is the green one on the right.
When you click or tap on that icon, you’ll see this screen, which is the main client page. The most important information is the small text just above the first row of icons, which gives your remaining balance, here “Il tuo credito residuo è 11.54 €”
Keep an eye on that from time to time, especially if you’ve been roaming on to the TIM network (though you’ll also get a text message when you are running low on credit, which starts “Il suo credito residuo sta per esaurirsi” (the remaining credit is low).
To see how much of your daily 100Mb internet allowance you’re using, click or tap the ‘Info Costi’ icon to reach the next screen:
Scroll down this page to the link that says “Visualizza Soglia Giornalieria Super Internet” and click on it. You’ll see this screen appear:
There are two bits of info on here. “Traffico dati effettuato” is the amount of data you’ve used today, and “Traffico dati rimanente” is the amount remaining for the current day. The “Torna alla homepage” link will take you back to the ‘Area Clienti’ page.
How to top up
If you start to run low on credit, you’ll obviously need to know how to top up. That’s pretty straightforward, too. There are two ways; the first is to buy a top up card. These are available in lots of stores; look for signs that say “ricari”, “ricariche” “ricarica”. Ask nicely for “Una ricarica tre per dieci euro,” which means “A 3 top up for €10” and will usually get you a card with a small scratch off panel, behind which is the top up code.
Once you have the card, access the ‘Area Clienti’ page as outlined above, and then scroll down until you see these icons.
Click or tap on Ricarica, and you’ll reach this screen, which asks how you want to top up. Since we’re using a voucher, it’s the first option you need to choose, “Con Ricarica 3 e Ricarica Più”
Now, you’ll see this screen, which is asking you if you want to top up your phone or someone else’s; it reminds you of your current credit at the top, and since you’re presumably topping up your phone, you want to click the link that says “Te stesso”
Finally, you get to this screen. Click in the box and enter the sixteen digit code from behind the scratch-off panel on the card, and then click on Conferma.
You will shortly receive a text message confirming the credit, which starts “Grazie per aver ricaricato con Ricarica 3.”
Sometimes, when you ask for a ricarica, you won’t be given a card. Instead you’ll be asked for your telephone number, so make sure you have a note of it. The person in the shop will enter this into a terminal, and the credit will be applied, with an identical text message sent to your phone as confirmation.
On the whole, I found the service from 3 Italia pretty good – and faster than I usually get at home on Orange. Travelling in some more rural areas, I would sometimes lose the signal, but in Rome and Modica it worked fine.
There was also no difficulty using my E72 to connect to the phone system back home, using VoIP over a PPTP tunnel, though I didn’t try using VoIP directly.
One final word – occasionally I found that the 3 site threw up errors, sometimes with a brief message like this, and sometimes a blank page that just said “Sorry, consumer.” Trying later is the best thing to do when that happens.