Walking Venice with an iPhone

I’m vacationing in Italy and for the past couple of days, I’ve been using an iPhone 3G and Google Maps to navigate the world’s most hopelessly confusing city. It’s not perfect but it works pretty well.

As long as I have a decent view of the sky—sometimes impossible in a narrow calle—the GPS is very accurate at pinpointing my position. The big problem is that even at the highest-scale setting, the maps on the screen, like printed maps, don’t have room to print the names of all the tiny alleyways. Sometimes the alleyways don’t have names painted on the walls. And sometimes the names that are there don’t correspond to what’s on the map, all par for the course in Venice. But at least if you choose the wrong route out of a campo, the little blue dot will tell you how you’ve gone wrong.

On the other hand, I’ve discovered that thew wonder of universal coverage in Europe is something of a myth. It’s true for voice, but 3G data is a different situation, at least for a visiting American.

One reason voice works so well is that there are multiple networks all using the same GSM standard and you can roam freely among them. For data, I am limited to the networks that AT&T has data roaming agreements with. For me, something that shows on my phone as I WIND works the best. If I'm on Vodafone or TIM, I can make voice calls but can't seem to get a data connection. And coverage on any one network is spotty, just like at home; sometimes it will go from three bars to nothing while I'm standing in place. and this is hardly just an iPhone problem; the same thing happens with my Motorola Q9h that I'm using to get corporate email via Good Mobile Messaging. Fortunately, the messaging is much more tolerant of an intermittent connection than Google Maps.

So maybe we should stop beating ourselves up over how much better things are in Europe. Or maybe data roaming from one network to another works better if you are a customer of one of the local networks. Tell me if you have experience in this.

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