In Italy, unlike in France, there appears to be no problem with getting a SIM card as a foreigner. You will need your passport or some other form of ID, which will be photocopied, but other than that, it’s very easy.
Wind have the most competitive prepaid mobile broadband, by a long shot.
We are with Wind in Italy, and they have a pretty good offering (although coupled with their We’re-An-Evil-Telco policies, this works out to be less appealing that at first glance). We went into a shop in Rome, just a bit south of the Flaminio metro station (on Via del Corso), and they spoke English there. The guy who served me was very helpful, didn’t throw a tantrum when I admitted I had an iPhone and wanted to use tethering, and even gave me the APN in advance!
Mobile broadband is available on just a standard pre-paid SIM card, which costs €5, from memory, and is just an option that can be activated in store when you buy the SIM, or later for a small activation fee.
There are a number of mobile broadband options, which are metered either by time, or by volume. The time-based plans are much more affordable, and offer truly unlimited data (no cap at all). We’re using the ‘Mega 100 Ore’ plan (100 hours) at €15 per month, which works out to a bit over 3 hours per day.
Once the 100 hours are up, you pay €0.50 per 15 minutes, which is not so good. Our plan is to buy another SIM card with the same plan, so we get double the time, and can just switch SIM cards when we use up the first 100 hours.
The alternative, volume-based plans are a bit more expensive, with the most generous being 4.5Gb for €30/month. Given the rate at which we go through data, this isn’t much use to us.
As far as quality goes, we’ve had the best 3G performance I’ve ever seen – Currently, in Sorrento, I’m getting 100kBps downloads, smooth video conferencing and very nicely streaming Megavideo. Haven’t had any problems with range so far.
Update: Since our re-entry into Italy, we’ve been using the 4.5Gb plan (“Mega 15000”) on one SIM card which I keep in my iPhone, and the 100 hour (“Mega 100 ore”) plan on a secondary SIM card I keep in a USB modem we have. This way, we have untimed internet for casual use, and for heavy downloading (catching up on TV!) we can plug in the USB modem. This has worked very well so far — surprisingly, we’re currently well below our data allowance on the 4.5Gb plan, despite using it for hours and hours from our laptops almost every day, which is great. What’s even cooler for us currently is Wind have a special offer on their volume-based plan that gets us completely unmetered internet between midnight and 8AM.
Update 2: Beware Wind! We’ve had some issues with Wind ‘disappearing’ our credit. Amazingly, this has happened on both of our SIM cards, on the volume-based plan and on the time-based plan. On two separate occasions, we’ve gone to use it, and found the balance at zero, expecting to have 800Mb left on one, and at least 50 hours left on the other. Not speaking Italian it’s been impossible to contact their service centre to have the issues fixed, so I’m hoping an Italian friend will be able to advocate for us. Most frustrating.
Update 3: No luck on recovering our credit, so it’s gone. We’ve given up on the volume-based plan, and stuck with the time-based one (the Mega 100 ore). We have 3 SIM cards, and alternate them through the month, giving us up to about 10 hours per day, if we wanted, which suits us fine. Wind now support PayPal for recharging, too, from mondowind.it: You need an Italian PayPal account, but that’s very easy and free to set up. Then, just send money to it from your main PayPal account to pay.
Update 4: Yeah, they expire your credit after a month, and only offer it in blocks of 15 or 20 euros. Although the time plan costs 15, Wind don’t let you access it if you have zero credit, even though you’ve already paid for it. So, our 3 SIM card policy actually costs us €60 a month, not €45 (3 * €20, not 3 * €15). Plus a bit extra for Wind’s shenanigans, against which we have little defence as we don’t speak the language. Although they still have the best offering here (and we’ll probably miss them dearly when we leave Italy), we are pretty annoyed by their money-grabbing policies.
Notes on other providers from my assistant Louise:
This appears to be the closest I can get to your data requirements at 1 Gb. Since it is only valid 30 days I don’t know if it is possible to top up mid month. Pricing is a bit confusing but it appears to be 10 euros per card BUT they talk about pre-pay you get 50 mb and then when that used up in a 24 hour period they load up 1 gb.
This is interesting – 39 Euros a month, gives you 10 hours surfing etc. per day, after that charge you 2 Euros per hour. There is note in the T&C that says if you go over 10 Gbs then they will get upset.
Trouble is of course it’s contract but can’t see commitment length, and appreciate you almost certainly don’t want their mini PC.