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Old 12.10.2009, 08:47
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Mobile phone to use in the US

As my iPhone is currently locked, I'm looking for the best way to organise a cheap mobile phone to use in an upcoming trip to the United States. Has anyone got any good ideas of how it can be done from over here before I go, or is it better to wait until I get there and pick up a cheap PAYG one?

I've always used an unlocked phone for trips abroad until now, and as this will be my first trip to the States I'm not yet up to speed on any clever ideas or shortcuts to do this.
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Old 12.10.2009, 09:06
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

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As my iPhone is currently locked, I'm looking for the best way to organise a cheap mobile phone to use in an upcoming trip to the United States. Has anyone got any good ideas of how it can be done from over here before I go, or is it better to wait until I get there and pick up a cheap PAYG one?

I've always used an unlocked phone for trips abroad until now, and as this will be my first trip to the States I'm not yet up to speed on any clever ideas or shortcuts to do this.
Hi,

It depends a bit where in the US you go to. If you stick to the bigger cities, you might be able to bring a (quad band) GSM phone from Switzerland and try to get a SIM card (T-Mobile or AT&T - those are the only major GSM networks) in the US. The problem is that (like here), you need to register for SIM cards and they might not even sell you one if you don't live in the US. Last time I simply gave them my hotel's address and they never checked :-)

Unfortunately, GSM coverage pretty much ends as soon as you leave the metro areas. Outside it's predominantly CDMA (Sprint, Verizon and a plethora of smaller providers). Those networks don't use SIM cards so there's no point in bringing a phone (should you find one that does both GSM + CDMA)

If I needed a phone there again, I'd pick up a PAYG with country-wide free roaming and free access to 1-800 numbers (so you can use calling cards to place calls to Switzerland / Europe).

Peter
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Old 12.10.2009, 10:09
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

Useful info, thanks Peter. I'm going to be based in NY so coverage should be ok there, but also travelling out of town a few times. I'll keep digging online to see who's offering what.
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Old 12.10.2009, 10:18
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

You can go to any Walmart, Walgreens, CVS or Reade and pick up a Net-10 phone. Phone and 300 mins of talk time is US 20. This gives you access to virtually every where in the USA and you can also make international calls and SMS .. The phone can be reloaded over the internet or from any of the stores or you can pickup another for the same price. Also most times you can buy a US 20 dollar phone card and get a second one for free.
I try to avoid using my swiss quad band as the roaming charges and sms messages are expensive.
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Old 12.10.2009, 10:28
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

I totally agree with dawiz. Apart from that, I'd like to warn you against using a phone from Europe in the USA without an American card. With all the roaming charges it's extremely expensive.

For instance, if you forget to completely switch off your answering machine (the one from the GSM service provider, not a physical one at your office in Switzerland), it can cost you a fortune because every call to your European number is redirected to the USA, where you can't answer because you are outside of those GSM ghettos, then it is redirected back to Switzerland and recorded on your voice mail, where again you have to listen to it from the USA. Each of these redirection processes (three in that case) costs you several bucks a minute.
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Old 12.10.2009, 10:29
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

Thanks for the advice. That's exactly why I started the thread - my local phone's going to be switched off for the whole trip, I'm not taking the risk!


EDIT: I've just done some some digging and found out that on an iPhone using OS 2.0 you can turn on airplane mode and then re-enable WiFi. This is excellent news as my hotel has free WiFi, but I thought I wouldn't be able to use the iPhone on it, as I wanted to make sure all incoming / outgoing calls are switched off (including voicemail). So it turns out you can avoid roaming charges but still connect to WiFi whilst abroad using an iPhone.

This may be old news for some, but just thought I'd mention it in case anyone else wasn't aware.

Last edited by Ed Pummelon; 12.10.2009 at 11:58.
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Old 12.10.2009, 22:29
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

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... This is excellent news as my hotel has free WiFi ...So it turns out you can avoid roaming charges but still connect to WiFi whilst abroad using an iPhone...
This is really good news as you now even can make free calls via Skype. Download Skype for iphone here. I use Skype via WiFi on my Windows Mobile phone, it works like a charm. That'll be a Bud, please
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Old 12.10.2009, 22:46
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

When are you going? I have a pre-paid U.S. phone (Virgin mobile USA) I can loan you for the trip.
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Old 12.10.2009, 23:16
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

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This is really good news as you now even can make free calls via Skype. Download Skype for iphone here. I use Skype via WiFi on my Windows Mobile phone, it works like a charm. That'll be a Bud, please
Already thought of that, but hey have a virtual Bud on me anyway

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When are you going? I have a pre-paid U.S. phone (Virgin mobile USA) I can loan you for the trip.
Thanks for the offer, but this is going to be a first of several trips, so it's going to make sense to get something for myself in any case. At the moment the Net-10 solution Coolio mentioned is looking like the best bet. Appreciate the offer though, thanks
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Old 13.10.2009, 07:24
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

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Net-10 solution Coolio mentioned is looking like the best bet. Appreciate the offer though, thanks
be aware that altho NET-10 is GSM, they use a special pre-paid billing system that is included in the hardware of the phone, so you can't swap SIM cards (ie: you can't take the NET-10 SIM card and use it in another phone, or put another SIM card in the NET-10 phone). If you will only use the NET-10 SIM card in the NET -10 phone, then "no worries, mate"

PS- AT&T and T-Mobile USA just launched "all you can eat" pre-paid packages for $60 or $50 a month (ie: no contract), that includes voice alls in USA/Mexico, SMS (world-wide, I think) and I'm not sure how much data. Says "unlimited" but most "unlimited" have caps of 5BG/month or so...

**edit** AT&T's is $60/month for unlimited calls and SMS, T-Mobile is $50/month for voice, SMS and data (but T-Mobile has coverage only in major cities, while AT&T has more coverage nation-wide)

Last edited by esto; 13.10.2009 at 16:42.
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Old 13.10.2009, 14:26
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

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EDIT: I've just done some some digging and found out that on an iPhone using OS 2.0 you can turn on airplane mode and then re-enable WiFi.
yes, that works great. I'd suggest you also look at boingo.com They have a WiFi hotspot roaming solution that'll let you use all Boingo hotspots (and there are lots of those in the US) for about 8$ per month (for the iPhone version). Can be canceled at any time online. I've used that service many times and saved a ton of money (WiFi at Starbucks, McDonald's, your hotel etc. usually isn't free - I usually got those 8$ back in less than a day...)

Boingo has an iPhone app - just connect to a partner hotspot and log in through the app.

Boingo also works in Switzerland, btw. (and no, I don't work for them :-)

Peter
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Old 13.10.2009, 14:35
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

Great idea, thanks, I'd read about Boingo ages ago but had forgotten all about it. Luckily I'll have free wifi at the hotel this time but obviously not anywhere else. Will check it out, should be very handy for Skyping.
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Old 13.10.2009, 16:35
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

Verizon also has cheap pre-paid phones you can pick up at any WalMart or Radio Shack, activate, they only charge a per-day fee every day you use them, and you can reload them by credit card online or by buying airtime at a variety of stores.

Virgin Mobile has similar deals, but I believe their coverage is not as good. They use Sprint's network, and I never had problems with them.

YMMV.
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Old 13.10.2009, 16:38
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

Thanks for all the suggestions everyone. Having discovered that I can still use WiFi on the iPhone while I'm over there, I'm hoping I'll be able to get by with Skype. However the other pre-paid possibilities will be very useful should I need a back up plan. Again, thanks for all your help.
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Old 24.10.2009, 02:00
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Re: Mobile phone to use in the US

Although I hope you've found a solution to your problem here are my two cents:

1. Any quad-band (read almost 95% of phones bought in Europe) will work on AT&T or T-Mobile in the US.

2. Have your iPhone unlocked and use it in the US.

If your iPhone is not upgraded to the newest firmware which is OS 3.1 and above unlocking your phone will be a piece of cake. PM me and I'll let you in on the details. You don't even have to be a tech junkie to figure it out.

3. Get a pay monthly account which is NOT a contract.

Only recently, T-Mobile has started offering service which are prepaid to some extent. As you may already know receiving as well as making calls within the US eats your minutes. If you go with pre pay it will kill your minutes and additional minutes are expensive to come by (I think $0.45 per min). Now depending on how long and how frequently you plan on staying in the US I suggest you sign up for a T-Mobile flex pay account. It will give you a number and all the services of a normal contract while not being one. No Social Security Number needed and you can give any address in the US. You pay in advance for the month of service (yes it is on a month to month cycle) and you will have service for one calender month. If you do not pay for the next month your line will be suspended. A line can be suspended up to 30 days. You can downgrade or upgrade to any plan during any month at no additional fee. For a fee of about $40 you will get around 1000 minutes (for receiving and calling) with unlimited weekends (free domestic calls between Friday 9pm to Monday 6am). Last I checked it was $6.99 for unlimited nights during the weekdays (from 9pm to 6am), 19.99 combined for unlimited data and domestic text messaging (and YES it works with the iPhone although you have to convince T-Mobile you are not using an iPhone - not really a big issue). The best part of course was unlike Europe the data is uncapped so you can make free Skype calls and unlimited browsing over the T-Mobile network without having to worry about overages. Oh and there is a $20 SIM fee if you get pre pay and if you get flex pay they might give it to you for free. I myself have been a T-Mobile customer for 5 years and online research will prove that they are the highest ranked provider for customer satisfaction in the US for cell phone service. For around $82 for the month I had 1000 minutes for nights and weekends and unlimited data and text. You pretty much don't need to pay anything additional. Again if you don't think you'll be spending that many minutes you can opt for a smaller plan. Although be careful if you're going to be in the Manhattan and frequently in the high rise buildings your coverage may be spotty. Anything above the 35th floor is a 50/50. Again this in my opinion is a better option than a pre paid service.

I hope that helps. If you need any further clarification/help please do let me know.
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