Wireless LAN Public Access Points (or so-called Hotspots), which allow you to surf the Web away from home using your own laptop or smartphone, can be found in countless cafés, restaurants and hotels across Germany. Wireless Internet access is usually not free in Germany, even at the train station or the airport. Establishments providing this service to their customers do so through one of the major Internet providers, such as Deutsche Telekom, AOL or 1&1. Whether you are a client of one of these providers or not, you usually have to pay to surf, either with a prepaid or credit card, at rates of up to 4.50 euros for 30 minutes. In an effort to bring more customers to their establishments, cafés and restaurants are increasingly providing free services for guests. This practice, however is not widespread. Also note that not all access points are secure, so avoid banking transactions or other delicate business away from home. For an extensive listing of Hotspots, go to www.hotspot-locations.de.
Mobile wireless Internet is becoming more widespread and more affordable – if you have the right hardware. Deutsche Telekom, for example, offers the web’n’walk package for both cell phones and laptops. Using the cellular phone network GPRS and UMTS protocol, the service offers access speed that is nearly as fast as a DSL connection. Prices range from 29,95 euros per month for a flat rate to a day rate of 4,95 euros (with no monthly fees). Vodafone offers a similar range of products. To use the system to access the web with your laptop, you will need an additional USB stick. Depending on your contract, the hardware may be included at no extra cost. Please note that these services can currently only be accessed in Germany.
Call-by-Call and Your Bill
As a newcomer, you may be traveling with a calling card brought from home. Your calling card may come in handy if you want to call long distance from a telephone booth or from a hotel room. At home, however, consider the call-by-call option. With call-by-call services, you type in a pre-dial number before the actual telephone number. This diverts the call through an alternative provider at prices that are up to 70 percent lower than Telekom. Call-by-call services can be used in Germany for local, long distance and international calls. Prices can change from week to week, so consult with www.teltarif.de for the best deal. You may want to save several pre-dial prefixes in your speed dial. The bill for the call-by-call service will appear on your regular bill from your main operator.
Germany has stringent laws on personal privacy, so you will not automatically receive an itemized telephone bill. You must specifically request this – a so-called “Einzelverbindungsnachweis”, which lists the numbers you dialed and how much each call costs. This can come in very handy when you compare each individual call-by-call provider. You can pay your bill either by bank debit or by bank transfer. Some providers will even send you your bill by e-mail.
The telephone billing system is based on calling units, which are based on a predefined number of seconds. The shorter the number of seconds per unit, the better, because then you are only paying for the actual time used to make the call. New phones with displays and cell phones allow you to check how much a call is costing.