Simple Choice International Roaming
How T-Mobile Simple Choice International Plan PerformeD
As we planned our Trip Around the World, we knew the issue of communication would be a thorny one. Our idea was to keep an active journal of our adventures and experiences, so we'd need some sort of reliable plan for access to the Internet. Plus, our kids (and their parents) wanted to be able to keep in touch with friends and family members back home.
For as far back as we can remember, we've had AT&T. No, wait. That's not true. We got cell phones from L.A. Cellular way back in 1997, but they turned into Cingular, and that was gobbled up by SBC, which eventually turned back into AT&T. Or something like that. Anyway, we've actively never switched cell phone providers.
A Tale of Two Providers
However, AT&T is notorious for being expensive when roaming internationally. Just check Jeff Reifman's story about getting hit with $750 in roaming charges for one minute of using Google Maps to navigate while crossing the Canadian border. Yikes! We were probably going to be using our phones for navigation more than a few times, and there's no way we could afford those kinds of charges. And the AT&T international plans are way too expensive, and way too limiting, for what we are doing.
By contrast, T-Mobile promises free international mobile data up to your plan limit and free, unlimited international texting through their Simple Choice International Plans. This was great news, so we switched from AT&T to T-Mobile. (We'd also been holding off on switching because of the false belief that we needed the grandfathered unlimited data plans.)
The Good Stuff!
First of all, the plan itself was cheaper than our plan though AT&T and we wouldn't incur international roaming charges. In fact, unless we make voice calls back to the U.S. (which we need to do every so often) our bill is always the same, no matter what country we happen to be in.
The Not As Good Stuff
The data for T-Mobile International Roaming is limited to 3G speeds, or, in remote areas, Edge (a/k/a 2.75G) or even, in the remotest areas, 2G speeds. With the exception of 2G, we usually enough connectivity to keep the navigation going, as well as texting and (sometimes) emailing, but forget about any sort of Facebooking, Instagramming, or web surfing (purely for information-gathering purposes, of course).
An Important Step: Turn on Data Roaming
Most importantly, don't forget to turn on roaming data (like we did the first day). Simple Choice International won't work without that.
The Simple Choice Experience, by Country
Here then, are our experiences, country by country, with Simple Choice International. In each case, we list the T-Mobile roaming partner carriers that we connected with.
Fair 3G coverage in urban areas, but spotty Edge service in the smaller towns and rural communities.
Fair, but somewhat unreliable 3G connection in central Panama City. Spotty connections, and mostly Edge when we had it, in Casco Viejo. And, of course, nothing at all in the jungle.
We had no luck getting any sort of data connection in Santiago on either occasion we were there.
Moderate coverage, mostly Edge, but occasionally (and surprisingly) 3G on the whole island, with occasional outages.
Carriers: Vodafone NZ, Spark NZ, Telecom NZ
Good coverage on both islands, some limited connectivity in very remote areas, but overall, solidly 3G.
Carriers: Vodafone AU, Optus
Strong 3G coverage in Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan areas. Coverage was okay in the cities on Tasmania, but ranged from poor to mostly non-existent in small towns and the wilderness (as one would expect). Very inconsistent and poor coverage in the coastal towns along the Great Ocean Road, like Torquay. Good coverage in Perth and fair to spotty (sometimes none at all) in the Western Australia countryside between Goomalling and Dowerin.
CARRIERS: IND TELKOMSEL
Good 3G coverage in the area around Ubud.
CARRIERS: SGP-M1 (Mobile 1)
Solid 3G coverage in the entire area we were visiting (predominately the southern point of the city).
CARRIERS: smartone HK
Pretty good 3G coverage in all areas of Hong Kong we traveled in. But occasionally, the signal would get lost and required rebooting the device to get it back.
CARRIERS: NTT DOCOMO, JP DOCOMO, SOFTBANK
Intermittent 3G coverage in Tokyo. The signal was often lost, so it wasn't at all reliable—use it when you have it, because you never know when it's going to go away. Better luck in Osaka with 3G where it was usually pretty solid. 3G in Kytoto relatively strong. Good 3G coverage in Hiroshima, including the island area of Miyajima. On a return trip to Tokyo, 3G was much more reliable (in a different neighborhood).
CARRIERS: SK TELECOM
Strong, solid 3G all throughout Seoul.
CARRIERS: China Mobile, China Unicom
Edge Network throughout Beijing and Xi'an. Edge and sometimes a single, lonely G in Shanghai. The connection would often reset, and we'd frequently get a strange "Restricted Access Changed."
Carriers: VN Mobifone, VN Vinaphone, Viettel
Strong, solid 3G all throughout Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Spotty coverage alternating between 3G and Edge on or 32-hour ride on the Reunification Express. Although this all changed 1 January 2015 when speeds were throttled to 2G and then turned off entirely on 14 January (see our T-Mobile Vietnam update for more details).
Carriers: Cellcard, Metfone
Mostly good 3G coverage (sometimes dropping to Edge) in Siem Reap and some of the closer temples. Coverage dropped to Edge or a single G in the more distant temples.
Carriers: TH GSM, TH-DTAC, DTAC TRINET, AIS 3G
In Bangkok and Chiang Mai, sometimes we were on Edge, sometimes we were on 3G, and sometimes nothing at all. It wasn't unusual for one of our phones to have a connection while the other one had nothing. Most of the time, we manually selected AIS 3G for good connection speeds, but it dropped often.
Carriers: Airtel, Vodaphone IN, Reliance
3G connection speeds were good in Delhi, okay in Agra, and intermittent in Jaipur. In Agra and Jaipur we frequently lost all connectivity, especially when it rained. On the roads between the cities, we had intermittent connections.
Carriers: Avea, Vodafone TR
Flawless 3G connections in Istanbul. Very reliable 3G in most areas around Göreme and Cappadocia (which was surprising, but very nice).
Carriers: Telekom RO, Vodafone RO, RO Cosmote
3G connection in Bucharest on Vodafone, but it often defaulted to Telekom RO which only gave us Edge. Odd, because the T-Mobile logo is all over Bucharest. Edge only in Brasov.
Carriers: Movistar, Vodafone ES, Orange
Excellent 3G in Madrid, Toledo, Seville, and Valencia. Also great in Barcelona, but every so often it dropped to Edge. Mostly good in Granada, but some connection trouble when things really got busy during Holy Week celebrations. Even the roads between cities had reasonably strong 3G connectvity but every so often dropped to Edge or even G.
Carriers: GR Cosmote
Solid 3G in Athens. Reasonably good 3G on Crete near Chania, occasionally dropping to Edge.
Carriers: I Wind, I Tim
Great 3G in Rome, sometimes even LTE. Decent 3G on the road to Urbino, but dropping to Edge in the wilderness of La Marche. Decent coverage in Lucca, Pisa, Florence, and Turin.
Good 3G coverage in Lugano and along the road into Liechtenstein, even in the Alps.
Carriers: FL1, Orange FL
No supported coverage from carriers in Liechtenstein! Rates jump to $2.39/min for talk, $15/MB for data, and $0.50 per text. But the country is so small (61 square miles), you may be able to run on Swisscom (Switzerland) in Balzers and Vaduz and a cooperating Austrian carrier in the northern part of the country.
Carriers: T-Mobile, Telecom.de
Somewhat slow 3G in Freising and the greater Munich area. Decent coverage along the Autobahn going toward Austria. Decent 3G in Regensburg. Solid 3G in Berlin and Hamburg, but on-and-off coverage in Brühl.
Carriers: 3 AT
Good 3G coverage in Salzburg.
Carriers: Vodafone CZ, T-Mobile
Great coverage in Prague.
Carriers: L Tango, Post
Excellent 3G in Luxembourg City and the surrounding towns.
Carriers: Bel Proximus, Mobistar
Good 3G in Bostogne and Brussels. Decent coverage in Brugge.
Carriers: Orange F
Decent to poor 3G in Paris, dropping to Edge around the Eiffel Tower and other popular locations.
Carriers: TDC Mobile, 3 DK
Great 3G throughout Copenhagen.
Carriers: T-Mobile, Vodafone NL
Good 3G in Amsterdam.
Carriers: T-Mobile, Vodafone UK, EE, 3 UK
Fair to poor coverage in Brighton. Spotty coverage in Stratford-upon-Avon. Good, consistent 3G in London. Intermittent 3G in Olney. In Brampton and Gilsland (near Hadrian's Wall), the connection waffled between none to Edge to G. Solid 3G in both Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Leicester.
Carriers: T-Mobile, Vodafone UK, EE, 3 UK
Intermittent 3G in Dunoon. Decent 3G coverage in Glasgow.
Carriers: Vodafone, Nova IS
Great 3G in Reykjavik and surprisingly good 3G in the countryside of Southern Iceland.
Carriers: Bell, Telus
Good 3G (and occasionally 4G!) coverage in Halifax, Nova Soctia and Montreal, Quebec.