Maybe the Wi-Fi is terrible in your hotel or hostel. Maybe you just stepped off a train and realized you have absolutely no idea how to get to that hotel or hostel that may or may not have terrible Wi-Fi. Maybe you just want to Snapchat without having to be in a Wi-Fi cafe and feeling pressured to buy a coffee so you don’t feel bad. There are many reasons why having a data connection is handy while you’re abroad, but it’s not clear what the best way is to get that data. MTX Connect is a service that hopes to give us some clarity.
United States carriers have gotten better of late with international data pricing, with T-Mobile and, to a less speedy extent, Sprint giving their customers the option to get free international data in select countries. But, they don’t have complete coverage in Europe, and if you’re with another carrier, you might find it harder to get good rates. A more reliable and cheaper option has always been to get a local SIM card in the countries you travel to, but buying separate SIM cards in each place can get costly, and there’s the slight hassle of swapping SIM cards when you cross borders.
This is where MTX Connect comes in — it’s a single SIM card that allows you to connect to data networks in countries across Europe. No need for SIM cards to pile up, and no interruptions to service when you cross borders. Sounds promising, right? I got to put the service to the test during a recent trip that spanned a few European countries, and to their credit, the promise is kept.
MTX Connect works by connecting you to local network operators, in the same way any SIM card would work when roaming. The difference is that you don’t pay roaming fees or varying rates by country — service is uninterrupted and costs the same as you go from Germany to Italy to France to the Czech Republic to almost anywhere else in Europe (almost). MTX Connect has a set of four simple pricing options to choose from, and while they aren’t the most economical, the convenience of the service deserves to be taken into consideration.
Getting started with the service is easy, but does take a little familiarity with the ins and outs of SIM card settings. Once you receive the SIM card in the mail, you’ll need to insert it and adjust the SIM’s APN settings by creating a new APN named ‘internet,’ which will allow the SIM to connect to MTX. From there, you’ll need to make sure both data and roaming are turned on, since MTX is essentially a roaming service. Once all that’s done, you’ll be able to access the MTX webpage (you can access this before paying, even without Wi-Fi), where you can enter an activation code included with your SIM card.
That brings us to pricing, which is the weakest point of the service. You have four options — €49.99 for 1 GB of data over one month, €9.99 for unlimited data for 24 hours, €3.49 for 100 MB over 24 hours, or a flat €0.10 per MB. This is very expensive compared to domestic data rates in the United States or what you would get by dealing directly with carriers in each country you visit. The other drawback is that you can’t pay for these plans directly — you need to put credit into your account in increments of €10, which means you’ll likely have a little left over in your account when your trip ends.
The other thing you’ll have to watch out for is that MTX Connect doesn’t quite cover all of Europe yet. They’re very close, but if they’re missing a country that’s on your list, that’s going to affect your decision making. Currently, MTX Connect is not in Norway, the Isle of Man, the Faroe Islands, Switzerland, Andorra, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Northern Cyprus, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The common thread there is that none of the above are in the EU, although MTX is in some non-EU countries, like Turkey, Montenegro, and Ukraine. All that said, MTX Connect says they’re close to setting up shop in Norway, Switzerland, Belarus, and Moldova.
When you see unlimited, you probably wonder about throttling. MTX Connect doesn’t have a hard threshold that will activate throttling, but it’s unlikely you’ll get hit with it unless you somehow abuse the service, whether by tethering or continuous streaming, be it uploading or downloading. Still, the threshold seems high enough for normal usage — I watched plenty of streaming videos on the 24 hour unlimited plan without any hitches. It’s likely you’ll only be throttled if you’re flagged as one of the very top data hogs, and in that case, you’re likely doing something in violation of the terms of agreement.
Probably the highest praise I can give MTX Connect is that it just works — I’ve used other cross-border data services with mixed results on that front. If service or data speeds ever dropped, it was because I was in a rural area and out of range of the local networks, not because of the MTX service itself. Crossing borders was never an issue, and service was always restored promptly when I bought a new plan. Buying credit, buying plans, setting up the service, and using the service took very little time, which is terrific news when you’re on vacation.
It’s not the cheapest way to get data in Europe, so you’ll have to ask yourself how much convenience is worth to you. If your trip to Europe only spans one or two countries, you’re likely better off dealing directly with the telecoms there. If you’re going to be in several countries and don’t want to lose time getting a SIM card in each one, then MTX Connect becomes a lot more compelling. The last thing you want on a vacation is something that wastes your time, and to their credit, MTX Connect is very good about not doing that. That could be reason enough to give them a shot.
The Good: Convenient, no problems crossing borders, easy to activate, covers almost all of Europe
The Bad: Not the cheapest option for roaming data, not going to help you much on your Balkan road trip — yet