We’ve got a trip to the USA planned and coming up soon. My somewhat nifty smartphone offers one feature most others don’t: dual SIM cards (one for work, one for personal use).
I’d like pre-paid flat rate GSM service for about 10 days in June in a densely populated urban area in the middle of the USA. It would be nice if that option included the possibility to retain unused credits and a phone number for use months later when visiting other parts of the country.
I’ll do my own homework too, of course, but I figure plenty of tech savvy expatriate continent-hoppers must have already found the optimum solution.
I seem to recall that AT&T and T-Mobile USA are the only big-name GSM operators in the USA. Is that still true?
What are my options here? What (and when) did you try that worked / didn’t work for you on a trip back to the USA with a German-issued smartphone? (Other than disconnecting my life from the internet, of course…)
Warning: this post is intensely technical, bordering on arcane. It’s about improving your user-experience as a command-line user on remote Unix-like systems. As such, it’s probably not intended for you, but my hope is that someone else will find it useful. The usual geeky stuff (food, travel, language, etc.) will follow again soon.
Which mobile provider do you use here in Germany? What do you like/dislike about them? Think about coverage. Billing. Pre-paid vs. contract. Perks. Roaming (EU and beyond). Especially welcome are your comparisons between operators/plans.
I’ve used Debitel pre-paid for phone service. O2 for pre-paid data services in Germany. Vodafone and Telekom for business and personal telephony and data plans.
Seems like they all are the pits on the DB stretch between Regensburg and Nuremberg. Vodafone and Telekom are just okay for coverage in our apartment. O2 doesn’t work at all there — good thing we don’t need them to and didn’t move there with O2 contracts in place. But I like their pre-paid surfstick plan (with which I use a mifi instead of their stick and am publishing this now).
Sounds creepy, doesn’t it? Like I’m going to corner you at a party and explain how
Beautyvision is more than just a franchise opportunity… It’s a way of looking at the world with the total absence of fear.
It’s not like that.
We got pretty tired of picking hotels and rental apartments based in part on their advertised internet connectivity. Which pretty much always is more hassle than it’s worth. Therefore, when I heard about O2‘s “dayflat pack” rate of €3,50/day or €25/month on a prepaid surfstick, I thought it was a great idea. We have a pretty reliable internet connection at home, and don’t need a mobile internet contract because we’re not usually out on the road. But when we are traveling (in Germany) €3,50 for the odd day’s worth of mobile broadband with no further strings attached is a great deal. No more getting the unluckily situated hotel room, the rental apartment running out of surfsticks, paying through the nose to SwissCom at the hotel or T-Mobile at the airport.
“Whew!” I thought to myself. “This sounds great!”
Reading a little closer into the system requirements, I saw that linux — of course — isn’t supported. Googling a bit, I found you can’t even fake it via Wine.
A little more googling revealed stuff about usb_modeswitcher and umtsmon — programs which enable your linux box (or netbook in this case) to manipuate your phone’s (or surfsticks’s) SIM card while it’s plugged into your USB port or PCMCIA slot. I noticed all the posts on this topic were about two years old, and apparently largely irrelevant now that Ubuntu supports all those things more or less out-of-the box.
But I’m on Kubuntu, which always seems to lag behind Ubuntu in terms of networking, and was still struggling until I coughed up for the Huawei E5 mobile WLAN router. This cute little device will let me and my four favorite WiFi capable devices surf on the cellular signal from that O2 pre-paid card: Sarah’s phone, our little netbook, my iPod touch, plus two other WLAN-capable devices (perhaps those of travel buddies), all simultaneously. Best part: somehow it knew all the settings like APN and dial-up number (huh? dial-up?) or, it read all that stuff off the SIM card…not sure which. Kubuntu and umtsmon needed me to tell them those things (and I was clueless as to what to put in there).
There is at least one caveat here: the easiest way to tell O2 you want to cash in some of your prepaid credit in the form of a dayflat pass is to use the software that came installed on the surfstick’s tiny little drive. That requires Windows (which I only use at work, and not at home) or a Macintosh (OK, got one of those). But my Mac is not a mobile device. How then, can I activate a dayflat pack while underway armed with only the SIM card (and surfstick) and no Windows/Mac OS with me?
The secret is that you CAN purchase a daily or monthly pack without the O2 “Mobile Partner” software. You just put that O2 prepaid SIM card into any GSM phone, boot it, and then dial *104#. I’m not sure what this is called in English, but the text that appeared on my phone said something like “service command” (I think was “Dienstbefehl“). From there you can enter numbers on your phone’s keypad to purchase a dayflat or monthly pack out of your pre-paid account’s available credit. Then pop that SIM card back into your surfstick or portable WiFi router and you’re good.