Imagine how different the Internet would be if it cost 24p just to look at Google's front page — with the first page of results costing as much again. How successful would Linux be if a single CD image cost £13,000? And iTunes would look very different if each track clocked in at £100 apiece. You wouldn't even think of synchronising your Exchange folders.
Yet these are the costs you have to pay today if you are rash enough to try to roam in the US with Orange and a GPRS phone. At £20 per megabyte and given a GPRS speed of 50kbps, that's £7.70 a minute — a call rate that echoes the worst of the monopoly practices of pre-liberalisation state telcos.
3G, where available, costs the same or more — but as it's up to ten times faster the per-minute rate is hiked accordingly. It is a mystery why the rates should be so high when the roaming costs to the telcos are practically no more than domestic calls. It is even more of a mystery when you consider that every alternative — including satellite communications — is cheaper. But then, perhaps it is only a mystery if you think like an engineer rather than a gangster.
Of course, not everyone charges £20 a megabyte. Some cost less than half that, meaning you could get that iTunes track for under fifty quid. But to people used to paying £20 for a month's worth of unlimited megabit broadband, such costs remain beyond belief — until you get the bill.
It's an instructive exercise to work out how much your normal online activity would cost if you were using GPRS abroad — or even at home, where costs of £3 per megabyte are not unknown. To work it out, first download and install Netmeter — a small but invaluable utility that shows instantaneous data throughput in both directions on your network interface, but more importantly collates statistics over days, weeks and months.
Netmeter's main Window
Netmeter's totals window
When you've collected a bit of data, right click on the meter window and select Totals; from here you can pick a variety of reports and export them as comma separated variable files.
NetMeter reports will give you an accurate picture of how much data you have consumed. This instance had been running just a few seconds and already we haad racked up 350Kb of data transfer — which would have cost up to £6 on some mobile data tariffs.
You can then import the files into a spreadsheet — they're actually semicolon separated, so you may have to...