I've recently traveled around France and Germany with my family and needed to get online cheaply whilst there - yes, the idea of 'switching off' is nice in theory but if you have paying customers who aren't pleased when a server goes down then you know the importance of being online to least check your email. As you probably know, roaming charges for data are charged (for no apparent reason tbh) at ridiculous rates, mine being £3 per MB via my provider which is O2. If you know me then you'll know that I'm no fan of being ripped off so I looked for a cheaper solution - read on for more info.

We had free WIFI at our accommodation in France but since my father (with whom we stayed in Germany) neither has a landline nor a mobile broadband tariff ('Interweb? What do I need that for') I had to find another solution - and I quickly found one (but read on to the end for an even cheaper one).

I already own a UK based, contract free T-Mobile web and walk mobile USB stick which costs me around £2 a day to use (however it will not get much use from me in the future since I'm now the proud owner of a Nexus One which can turn itself into a WIFI hotspot or can be tethered via USB - Apple take note). But anyway, the Nexus One is still subject to roaming charges when abroad so only a real option when I'm in the UK.

I rang T-Mobile and asked if I could use a German SIM card with the equivalent web-and-walk package which I'd purchase in Germany in my USB stick. They said probably not as the stick was locked to UK only SIMs. I wasn't totally sure about this but decided that for good measure I would unlock the USB stick, a HUAWEI model. You can find many sites with information about unlocking these USB sticks, and even though I had some trouble figuring out how the pricing works on DC-Unlocker I managed to complete the exercise quite painlessly for around £3.

So now I had an unlocked USB modem and only needed the German mobile broadband SIM. T-Mobile makes it quite hard to find their SIM only package, but it does exist under the name of 'Xtra web'n'walk DayFlat'. It will cost you ?10 which also includes a ?10 credit, meaning the SIM itself is essentially free. Note that you need to (I assume) supply a German address for delivery, but you can pay with a credit card online (as I did), provided you understand a bit of German to navigate through the purchase process.

So now I was online for ?4.95 per day with unlimited data and thanks to the antennas that are placed on top of a block of flats not far from my father's house I got a full HSDPA signal and very fast speeds. Granted, the same antennas probably fried my brain at night but hey, you can't have everything.
However, a problem arose when I wanted to load my card up with more credit: the T-Mobile site would no longer accept any of my credit cards... I was about to head over to the local T-Mobile store when I remembered that I also owned another German SIM card by Fonic which I used for voice calls whilst in Germany. Fonic is another SIM-only service, the SIMs for which you can buy in most German supermarkets including Lidl, DM and real. Note however that Fonic normally requires a German bank account to which it is linked for re-charging of your phone credits. I've used that method, but I've also spotted the possibility of charging up your balance via prepaid coupons, so called 'Aufladebons'. This may be an option if you do not have a German bank account (which is likely), however I have not tried this.

To get to my point, Fonic now offers a daily mobile broadband flatrate which can be activated via SM message. The good news is that it only costs ?2.50 per day up to a total of ?25 per month which is great value. This means you get charged ?2.50 per day you use the tariff until the 10th day per calendar month after which you will not incur any further daily charges until the end of the month. This makes Fonic the cheaper option compared with T-Mobile. Moreover, the Fonic SIM is a proper phone SIM, not a data-only SIM. This means that you can use the Fonic SIM in your phone just as you would use your normal SIM at home, and if you have a phone that tethers with your laptop then there is no need for the USB modem.
Fonic also offer a monthly contract for mobile data for only ?9.95 which includes 200MB of data PER MONTH after which the speed drops to GPRS. This is ideal if you stay for a few weeks in Germany and do not plan on using a lot of data. The daily rate at ?2.50/day or ?25/month on the other hand includes 500MB of data PER DAY up to 5GB per month.
I did also test the USB modem with the Fonic SIM in it and that worked too. I ended up using the Fonic SIM in my old (jailbroken) iPhone 3G which I tethered to my laptop and used my UK O2 SIM in my Nexus One in case someone tried to call me on my normal phone number. I made sure to turn off roaming and all data services on my Nexus One and was amazed that the battery in the Nexus lasted for a whole week that way!

So there you have it, cheap mobile broadband in Germany using Fonic. I am sure the same concept can be applied to other countries, just find a SIM-only prepaid service without monthly tie-ins and you should be good to go.