Just get a $2 throwaway SIM, they saidJanuary 23, 2012
I’m heading off to the US in less than six weeks, and am taking my smartphone with me. I want to use it as my modem for my laptop where there isn’t free WiFi (yeah, I need to figure out how to do that…), so I need to get a SIM that is either a US SIM or a global SIM. I’m on a contract with Telstra in Australia and if I use their SIM plus international roaming, I could be up for thousands (yes, thousands) of dollars on my phone bill for just two weeks in the US.
I checked the Whirlpool forums online (a great source of Australian information on all things techie and geeky), and the general consensus is that I need to unlock my phone with Telstra and get another SIM. The suggestions included purchasing a $2 SIM card from another provider and testing that the phone is unlocked with that SIM before committing to purchase one that will work in the US without the exorbitant charges from Telstra. And to do this before I leave Australia. I also went into the local Telstra Business Centre and asked the lady I know there about it, and she said I shouldn’t have to pay a fee for unlocking, told me what I had to do (she couldn’t do it from there), and also suggested buying another carrier’s $2 SIM and testing that the unlocking had worked.
So, when I was in the supermarket the other day, I asked about SIM cards and was sent to the Customer Service counter where they have the cigarettes under lock and key and hidden from view, and from where they also sell SIM cards. In front of the Customer Service counter was a bin of $2 SIMs from Vodaphone, so I grabbed one and put it on the counter along with my $2.
But it wasn’t that simple. The lady behind the counter said she needed to fill in a form for me to buy the $2 SIM. A form? For a $2 purchase? You’ve got to be kidding! But no… a LONG official form from the Australian Government, on which she was required to fill in my name, address, drivers license number and other details. All for a $2 SIM.
The form had the Australian Government coat of arms on it followed by ‘Australian Communications and Media Authority‘ and a logo for the AMTA (Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association). On further investigation of the AMTA website I found this: http://www.amta.org.au/pages/Pre-paid.ID.Forms, which says:
“Under Federal Government regulations, mobile service providers are required to collect, verify and store and, on lawful request, retrieve identity and address information about purchasers and users of pre-paid mobile phone services.”
There are copies of the official forms here: http://www.amta.org.au/pages/Forms.in.use.for.Pre-paid.ID.Check
In addition, the customer service lady had to hunt a list of handwritten numbers (how long did it take for someone in the supermarket to write that list?), then write my details next to the code number for the $2 SIM pack I was purchasing.
All up, the whole process of purchasing a $2 SIM took some 15+ minutes of her time and mine. That’s not counting the time taken for someone to hand write that list of codes (and hopefully not make a mistake — these codes are 10+ digits long), someone to collect the forms at the end of each day and mail them to Canberra. Unbelievable.
I still haven’t broken open the $2 SIM packet or unlocked my phone with Telstra, so I don’t know if/how it will work, but I’ll try that in the next day or so. What I did notice on the back of the $2 SIM packet was that there was no talk time/data time with the SIM — I’d have to purchase that separately from Vodafone, and, from their website, it looks as though the MINIMUM I can purchase is $29.
As of right now it’s cost me:
- $2 for the SIM
- 15 minutes getting the form filled in so I can purchase the $2 SIM
I expect further ‘costs’:
- $29 for the minimum recharge amount to test out my $2 SIM
- 15+ minutes on hold to Telstra to get my phone unlocked
Then once I’ve got that all sorted, I’ll need to order and pay for a US network-compatible SIM. And test using my phone as a modem when I’m on the road.
So much for a ‘throwaway $2 SIM card’!
What do the ordinary people who travel do? Just suck up the Telstra charges, or not use their phones for anything except an emergency? This is too hard.
Update 23 January 2012: I called the Telstra ‘unlocking team’ (125 111) today to unlock my HTC Sensation phone. After going through the voice prompts and feeling like a dill for answering Yes, No, Unlock, etc. into an empty room, I got shunted and shoved between three Indian call center personnel, before finally getting one who told me that my HTC Sensation with Telstra doesn’t need to be unlocked because it already is! So why isn’t that on the Telstra website? And why did it take three lots of ‘on hold’ music and three voices I found hard to understand before I was told this??
If you’re reading this and are also on a Telstra contract, it seems the only phone you need to unlock is the iPhone. The phone number for unlocking that I called was 125 111, and one of the people I spoke to said the direct number was 1300 720 179, just in case it’s useful to you.
Next step: Swap out the SIM and activate the phone with Vodaphone…