x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The choice of mobile phone plans makes the mind boggle

I didn't anticipate that setting up my phone abroad would be a chore. The mind blanches at all the possibilities of data plans here in the UK. It's much easier to do things in Dubai.

I knew there would be lots of little stumbling points in the beginning of life at uni, but I certainly didn’t anticipate that setting up my phone with the right package would be a chore.

The trusty pink BlackBerry I’d bought from Gitex Dubai was to be supplanted by an iPhone and now the balance teetered between the 5C and 5S models. The 5S was much lighter than the latest model, but it was only available in muddy shades of grey and black.

The inner preteen girl prevailed and I was soon paying for a candy pink 5C at the Apple store. They didn’t sell sim cards anywhere in the whole shopping centre. “There’s a Phones4u outside, just across the street, you can buy one from there,” the salesman smiled, waving a hand in the uninviting direction of rain and frosty wind.

Nothing could seem less appealing. “Then you can come back to the Apple store and we’ll set it up for you and get it running.” Well, nothing except having to make a return trip.

The mind boggles at all the possibilities of data plans here in the United Kingdom. It’s much easier to do things in Dubai, where you either go for Etisalat if you want to follow the herd, or du if you want to have to reconfirm “That’s right, 055, not 050” every time you give someone your mobile number. Here, there are many different phone companies with lots of packages.

You must summon up a piece of paper, a pen and the little grey cells and do lots of intricate calculations estimating how many minutes of local and international calls you’ll be making per month, and which plan works out the cheapest over the long run.

Oh, you also have to take into account the data plans – you get certain numbers of gigabytes of internet connection at different rates. Will you use Skype to talk to friends at other universities? That means you will expend large parts of your fast-slipping youth hollering “Hello? Hello? I can’t hear you! Or see you! Move your face!” and gazing woefully at frozen screens.

Having finally worked out the cheapest plan, I was just congratulating myself when the assistant told I wasn’t eligible for it. Apparently you have to have lived in the UK for three years to be able to buy certain plans, so it was back to the drawing board. GiffGaff will do, I decided wearily, it had unlimited internet. Nope, they couldn’t just give me a sim card in the shop, it would have to be ordered online and will be posted shortly to my UK address. It never did arrive.

I’m finally on Lebara right now, which for a princely sum of £12 (Dh73) gives me unlimited internet, sufficient free UK calls and decent international rates of 6p per minute for calls to Dubai and 1p a minute to India.

This is convenient enough, but it would be so much easier if everything was free for students. I thought the whole point of technological advances was to make life simpler, not boggle your brain with complex choices.

The writer is an 18-year-old student at Cambridge who grew up in Dubai