A recent trip to the United States had me looking for options to enable my iPad to access 3G and/or LTE service without paying the exorbitant roaming rates from my Canadian carrier.
In the past I’d borrowed an AT&T microSIM from a friend. AT&Ts system won’t accept non-US addresses for credit cards, so I also had to impose on an accommodating cousin who was living in New Jersey and didn’t mind providing me with his billing details. Unfortunately, the cousin has moved back to Toronto, so I needed a new solution.
It’s really a pity that national carriers don’t provide an easy solution to iPad users who are looking for a data plan. Kim and I use an iPad extensively when we travel and it’s most handy when it’s always connected to the network. It’s great for maps/GPS as well as general research on sites to see as well as restaurants in addition to keeping up with e-mail, facebook and twitter. After several trips to Europe, I own microSIMs from a few European carriers, who are not any more attuned to travellers needs that carriers in North America.
Acquiring a microSIM card is relatively easy. Setting up a plan is complex. A solution that had been proposed was to drop into an AT&T store with a prepaid credit card – which would not require a US billing address. T-Mobile caught my eye recently with their free international roaming offer, so I checked out their web site and called their customer service who assured me that if I dropped into a store, they’d find a solution.
After we crossed the border, we stopped at a T-mobile store in a mall in Lansing Michigan. An extremely friendly and helpful clerk listened to my request and told me that he could find a solution. In addition to a pre-paid monthly subscription plan that I’d seen on their web site, he showed me T-mobile’s pay-as-you go plan. For $25, I’d get 1.5GB of data and a month to use it. The microSIM cost $10. There are also plans at $15 for 300MB and 7 days and $35 for 3GB and a month.
The clerk had a few issues with the online activation service, so called in to activate, but while waiting on hold the online activation service finally approved the transaction and my iPad was activated on the T-mobile network. The entire transaction took about 20 minutes.
T-mobile’s service is known to be spotty, and driving through Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin, we often had difficulty connecting. Instead of 3G the iPad indicated E and GPRS. Not sure what those represent, but it generally meant no Internet access, even though the signal strength was 3 to 5 dots. In the main, however, we were happy with this solution.
Back in Canada, I’ve set up a T-mobile account, so that I can purchase more data the next time we cross the border.