This is a little off my beaten path, but I believe a little insight might be helpful to those out there that may be traveling to Australia for business or pleasure. I have been in the Sydney area of Australia for 2 weeks now on business. Sydney is very western in its business practices and everyday life, which makes navigation easy and exploration comfortable. Other than driving on the opposite side of the road, the biggest difference, which has turned into the largest challenge is online connectivity through data and WiFi networks.
In the US, or at least on the west coast, free WiFi is commonplace, to the point that it is expected from coffee shops and restaurants. Hotels follow suit, as do businesses, and data plans on handheld devices are inexpensive though that almost everyone has it. I have also been to a number of other countries, including China, Taiwan, India and Europe, all offer slightly less connectivity than the US, however it is still commonplace and somewhat expected form the public.
Australia, in my experience is very different. Free Wifi is very hard to come by, if Wifi is available at all. Coffee shops have no connections, and restaurants have Wifi but it is only for internal use. Hotels offer internet connection for a fee of $25-$30 for 150Megs of data, and businesses such as mine lock down their Wifi connections with strict passwords and policies. When I was renting a car from Hertz, they offered a mobile Wifi hotspot which was bundled with the car GPS for $6 a day, I opted to take the service by pure luck, as I had never seen this service offered. The mobile hotspot was good for 150Meg of data a day, after that it was billed out at $10 for every additional 100Meg. In the US I never monitored data usage, so I was surprised how little time it takes to burn 100Meg of data while surfing.
On the data side of things, about 1 hour after I arrived in Sydney I received an automated text from my cell provider (with international plan) that I had exceeded $50 in data already, and I was not even using my phone. Turns out my inbox was synching after a 15 hour flight, hardly $50 worth on information, I promptly turned data off on my phone.
I spoke with the IT Director of our branch in Sydney about the lack of connectivity, and he seemed a bit surprised that it was an issue. He continued to explain that worldwide fiber optic line installations during the dot-com era extended between the US and EU, and the US to India, however Australia was not highly invested in during this ‘global connection’. He had indicated that connectivity between Australia and the US was ok, but connections to the EU were bad from Sydney. In fact, it is faster to route internet traffic from Australia to the US then to the EU than it is to set up a direct line between Australia and the EU. The director also indicated that commercial data service was very expensive to businesses in Australia, which I assume is the reason that public-facing operations do not offer free service to customers.
After getting strange looks from every restaurant I went to and asked for the Wifi password, I started noticing that the locals here are not on their mobile devices quite as much as we see in the US. No-one was on Facebook, no one was on email, it just does not happen. I even pulled out my Yelp app to look for good pizza places in Sydney only to find that 80% or more of the restaurants were listed on Yelp but not claimed and had no reviews. The total population here is about 25 million, mostly located along the coastlines, I would think that customer base would drive an influx of data into the country. For now though, connectivity is reminiscent of the states in 2005.
Anyone out there have a similar experience? Leave a comment.