28

Knowing that AT&T is a global network, I was curious about what it would look like to use my phone internationally if they're my carrier. I came across their Passport Packages information, which states that if I want to use WiFi in another country at all (this was clarified by an AT&T representative) I would have to pay for the $60 package at a minimum.

If AT&T isn't the provider of the WiFi to which I'm trying to connect, how can they charge their customers to use it?

  • 14
    Are you sure that price isn't for being able to log into paid-for wireless access points abroad using your AT&T credentials? – Gagravarr Apr 25 '16 at 21:32
  • 7
    I am an American who uses AT&T. I have spent about a month in Japan total (two different trips) in the past year. I didn't inform AT&T about either trip (didn't sign up for their Passport Package). I left my iPhone in airplane mode the entire time I was abroad, and used WiFi all over Japan (and in South Korea during a layover), and AT&T didn't charge me any differently than if I had never left Missouri. – Keiki Apr 25 '16 at 21:43
  • 11
    AT&T's Passport packages include access to certain paid WiFi networks. Other WiFi networks will still work, based on whatever the usual access restrictions for that network are, even if you don't buy one of those packages. – Zach Lipton Apr 25 '16 at 21:44
  • 41
    I suspect very strongly that the representative didn't know what he or she was talking about. The training is usually not extremely comprehensive, and if the representative isn't personally familiar with the logistics of international travel, it's likely that she or he would misunderstand the training somewhat. This has been my experience, at any rate. – phoog Apr 25 '16 at 21:44
  • 9
    If you really trust phone representatives of cell phone companies, look up Verizon Math on YouTube. – Mehrdad Apr 26 '16 at 1:55
79

AT&T can't charge you to use WiFi. From the page you linked to, that's talking about a service where you connect to WiFi somewhere (like an airport) that you might normally have to pay for, and the provider of that WiFi has partnered with AT&T to allow AT&T customers to log in and use the WiFi.

This does not affect your ability to connect to any other public (or private) WiFi system, like a public library in London, your hotel in Hong Kong, or your friend's house in Sydney.

Phone company representatives are trained to encourage you to forget about actual public WiFi, and buy their expensive package to connect to their partners. There's also the possibility that the customer representative you talked to is simply not technically knowledgeable and only knows about what they've been told to say.

  • 1
    So, guaranteed, I will be able to use public or private WiFi (with the password, of course) without having to bow to AT&T's whims? That's certainly what I would like to believe, and to me, that's the intuitive answer; I wish AT&T was more clear about that. I understand that business is business, but that just seems shady. – Taylor Lopez Apr 25 '16 at 21:44
  • 3
    Yes, that's correct. You would still have to pay for any international data, texts, or calls that you consume. Keeping your phone in airplane mode and only using WiFi is an option for that, but then you'll have no connectivity when you're not on a WiFi network. – Zach Lipton Apr 25 '16 at 21:46
  • 1
    @iAmMortos that's my experience. When you connect to WiFi, you pay the provider of the WiFi service whatever they charge, which is often nothing. – phoog Apr 25 '16 at 21:46
  • 15
    WiFi will work great. The package they are selling you is for cell use, which runs off a different chip inside your phone. That's what's used for calls, cellular data, and texting (there are some exceptions here, not worth discussing). Turn off Cellular Data and Data Roaming when you leave the USA. That way you won't inadvertently connect to a foreign carrier that has a lucrative arrangement with AT&T for roaming surcharges. – Andrew Lazarus Apr 25 '16 at 21:47
  • 3
    If you read the text closely: it says "PARTICIPATING" WiFi networks. This essentially means that any non-participating WiFi networks are subject to their own rules. They just don't mention that last part explicitly. There is no surefire way for AT&T to know that you're trying to connect to a non-participating network. – Nzall Apr 26 '16 at 9:25
16

Here is a clear case of the representative being asked a question they don't know the answer to. As others have pointed out, their training is minimal.

They are not allowed to admit not knowing except in very extreme cases as that would be bad for the corporate image.

If they say "It will be free" and is wrong, the customer (you) will be very very angry and sue AT&T and maybe even switch providers. Big bad risk.

If they say "It will cost you." and is wrong, the customer will be annoyed at first but might be pleasantly surprised when the bill comes. Small risk.

They will go with the small risk.

2

Unless you have a phone the manufacturer of which has partnered with AT&T to only allow you to use Wi-Fi if you paid a ransom to AT&T (which would be very, very, very, surprising, and would most certainly only be the case for an AT&T-branded phone), as others have said, you are free to connect to any Wi-Fi network you like, and the "package" is most certainly only to use their partners' Wi-Fi networks (which you would normally have paid for through other means).

You can easily check: if you are able to connect to any Wi-Fi network (home, office, public Wi-Fi...) in your home country, it'll be the same when abroad.

1

Last year we spent a month in SE Asia. Our flights were routed through Tokyo & Singapore. With an AT&T SIM in our phones, we were able to connect to WiFi in both places with no problems, and no extra charges on our bill.

Digression: Now, once we got into each country we visited, I'd purchase at least one local SIM and tuck the AT&T SIM for that phone into a safe place. Then I'd turn on a WiFi hotspot so my wife could connect her phone or Ipad and use my phone's data plan.

Singapore in particular has a killer deal for tourists, a SIM with100GB of data for a month for $10, but SIMs were cheap everywhere we went with varying data plans.

-1

When your handset first talks to the phone company's cell tower, there's an authentication procedure. For example, your phone or its SIM card may have been blacklisted as stolen, or you could simply be too far behind on paying the bill. So at that point, whatever arrangement between Foreign Telecom (if you connected to their tower) and AT&T kicks in, or AT&T’s own rules, if it is one of there towers.

Basically they can charge what they please, subject to government regulation. I'm not sure I understand the question.

[EDIT: Although the OP is discussing WiFi, the package he refers to is for texts and calls.]

  • 2
    AT&T will not blacklist your phone because you've taken it to a foreign country without buying one of their packages. You can still use it on WiFi, subject to whatever access restrictions the WiFi network has. AT&T has a relationship with some WiFi providers, and some of their international packages include free access to the networks offered by those providers, but that's different. – Zach Lipton Apr 25 '16 at 21:42
  • 2
    But OP is asking about being charged for Wifi use. In my experience, when you take a phone to a foreign country without having a plan that allows roaming, the phone connects to the tower and then you get a free text message from your provider encouraging you to sign up for a plan that allows roaming. I believe the GSM standard requires the tower to authenticate the phone and accept emergency calls. They will refuse or accept other calls based on your service plan. – phoog Apr 25 '16 at 21:49
  • 1
    The package(s) I'm referring to specifically say "WiFi Access" as one of the line items, and that's the point on which I'm basing this entire question. I want to know if I'll be allowed to use WiFi networks without paying AT&T. – Taylor Lopez Apr 25 '16 at 21:51
  • 3
    That's right. You won't get AT&T's "WiFi Access" unless you pay for one of the packages, but you can still use normal WiFi networks as usual without a package. The representative was mistaken or misleading if they suggested that no WiFi will work without a package. – Zach Lipton Apr 25 '16 at 22:03
  • 3
    @BenjaminGruenbaum No it isn't :). The question is "How can AT&T charge me to use WiFi while I'm abroad?". Access to wifi doesn't require authentication with a cell site. – Calchas Apr 26 '16 at 8:45

protected by mindcorrosive May 8 '16 at 14:02

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.