h1

US SIM cards

February 25, 2018

I used to get my US SIM card on leaving Australia, but the company has closed down its kiosks at Sydney and Melbourne international airports and you can only buy from them online now (www.simcorner.com). Although buying online isn’t an issue, the only mobile plan they sell that suits me is from T-Mobile. However, my experiences with T-Mobile on the past few trips have been less than stellar, to the point SimCorner have refunded part of my money as compensation for glacial speeds (meant to be 4G), and lack of connection, even in major cities like Boston.

Time to look for another Australian provider of US SIM cards. In my search, I found a website (www.frequencycheck.com) where you can put in your phone model and get an assessment of which US carriers your phone is likely to ‘play nice’ with. In that check, I found that AT&T and my phone are the best match (and unsurprisingly, T-Mobile didn’t rate very highly for my phone model).

I investigated a few providers — some were based in Europe, some required you to do the activation yourself on arrival (not good after a 16+ hour flight while waiting for a connecting flight), and some didn’t tell you much at all, like whether or not the plan you were looking at allowed you to use your phone as a mobile hotspot (aka tethering). Some also had NO way of contacting them if anything went pear-shaped, except via their online form or an email address — not very good if you’ve just landed at a US airport from Australia and you now have NO internet access. I had to email one seller to find out if any of their plans allowed tethering — only one did, but this was NOT mentioned on their website, so I could’ve spent about $100 on an ‘unlimited everything’ plan only to find out on arrival I couldn’t use my phone as a hotspot. (For those wondering why I need hotspot facility — many hotels have free wifi, but it can be glacially slow and it certainly isn’t secure. Similarly, I tend not to use public wifi.) All the sites I checked had Facebook pages, but many hadn’t updated them in more than a year*, so that’s another red flag, as well as the ‘Community’ posts on their Facebook pages where customers were complaining about not receiving their SIM or being unable to activate their card and needing urgent help.

Eventually, I went with the provider who wasn’t the cheapest (actually they were the most expensive), but whose website was comprehensive and gave me this information:

  • Full details of what each AT&T SIM plan had, along with any limitations and restrictions
  • Automatic activation based on the date of arrival you put in
  • No need for the phone’s IMEI to be provided
  • Various contact/support methods — Australian phone #, 24/7 US phone #, email address, specific email address of the owner of the company
  • Detailed instructions
  • Detailed breakdown of what you’re paying for — SIM card plan, cost of actual SIM card, registered post (plus expected time of delivery)
  • Testimonials (more than the three one website had)
  • Comprehensive FAQ.

Ultimately, my decision was based on how confident I felt that the company would respond to any problems, based on the information provided on their website.

Only time will tell — my next trip is mid-April, so I’ll report back after that.

Bottom line: When prospective customers are looking to buy from you, give them as much information as they need to make that purchase, set out clearly and written concisely. And if the product is one that may require support, make sure you offer more than just a contact form available only via the internet.

Update (March 2018): Since I wrote this, I’ve checked Telstra’s offerings (Telstra is the biggest Australian telco, and who I have my phone plan with). Previously, international roaming with Telstra required you to remortgage your house! They changed that a few years ago, but even a year or so ago, it was still expensive. The $10/day wasn’t so bad, but the data allowance was miniscule and they whacked you very hard if you exceeded it, with the result that you could still come home to bill in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Happy holidays, NOT! However, Telstra has changed (probably to compete with the offerings of the other carriers) and the rates are now more reasonable — it’s still $10/day for global roaming, with a 200 MB/day data allowance (expires each day, so not cumulative). If you exceed your 200 MB in any day, you can purchase another 500 MB for $10, and that 500 MB lasts for 31 days. In addition to the 200 MB of data each day, you get to keep your Australian phone number, and get unlimited standard international calls and texts. For a 20-day trip, you’d be up for about $200 (you’re only charged for the days you use, but be aware the ‘day’ is based on Australian Eastern Standard Time), with a possible extra $10 or $20 for extra data, if needed. Not as cheap as a US SIM, but you don’t have to change SIMs, possibly change APN details in your phone and let the new provider know your IMEI number, tell others your US phone number, update airline and other websites with your temporary US number etc. It’s an option I might consider for the next trip after the upcoming one, though I’d need to find out what data speeds (2G, 3G, 4G?) the international roaming plan defaults to — if it’s glacial, there’s not much point.

Update (April 2018): I arrived in the US last night, and turned on my phone after installing the new SIM while in the air. It connected immediately to the AT&T network for phone calls and text messages, but not for data. However, the provider had given full instructions for updating the APN settings on an Android phone if it didn’t connect for data (not necessary for iPhones — it seem they connect automatically), and after I entered those settings and waited 5-15 mins, I had data connection. However, I didn’t have email connection on my phone as I link to Exchange Server for my email — I didn’t worry about changing those settings as I get email fine when I’m on wifi, AND I’d set my ISP email settings to send a copy of all my email sent to my Gmail account, which I can access without any issue on my phone.

The data connection isn’t particularly good close to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), despite all coverage maps for all companies showing ‘excellent’ coverage in and around big cities and airports. I used Speedtest.net to check, and got 1.22 Mbps download and 1.86 Mbps upload, with a 27 ms ping rate. This was with 1 bar of 4G coverage. A few minutes later it was still 1 bar, but I got 3.18 down and 0.89 up. I’ll monitor it over the next few days, but will use free wifi for general browsing and checking email where it’s available and has better speed. (Note: Checking via Speedtest chews up quite a bit of data [about 7 mb each test?] so I won’t do it often otherwise I’ll use up all my data just checking the speed!)

Oh, the Australian company I got my SIM card through? https://www.usaprepaidsimcard.com.au/ I bought the MAX plan as it allows me to use my phone as a wifi hotspot in areas of very bad or no wifi coverage. The other plans with more data don’t allow this.

Further to this… I contacted the Australian supplier about the speed near SFO and after getting me to check a couple of things which didn’t work (they were VERY prompt in their replies to me!) they put me in touch with the AT&T help desk, where the lady I spoke to was also very helpful. The issue with speed resolved itself as soon as I moved out of the SFO environment, so I’m guessing something weird was happening at that location.

A week later… I took the train from San Francisco to Chicago. There was no wifi on the train, so I HAD to use my cell phone as a wireless hotspot if I wanted connection. My previous T-Mobile SIMs would almost die if I took them away from a major city, but this AT&T SIM was like the Energiser Bunny — it just kept on and on, even out in the wilds of the Sierra mountains and Colorado where I didn’t expect any coverage. Yes, in some places coverage was patchy, but we were in the middle of nowhere and no-one had signal in those cases. So, based on my experience on the train, I’d go with AT&T again.

******

* Yeah, I’m also guilty of not updating my CyberText Facebook page — to be honest, I only grabbed the page way back when to prevent someone else from grabbing the name; I never intended it to be a method for anyone wanting my services to contact me.

[Links last checked February 2018]

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: