The mobile networking concept, for an Australian traveller heading overseas, is highly attractive but not as easy to implement economically as I had hoped on my trip to the US and Canada in July/August. I didn’t spend a lot but my internet access was very sparse and that came down to
- not doing my homework properly;
- making wrong assumptions about internet services overseas;
- being terrified of incurring a big unwanted bill and
- not mentally splitting my phone/SMS services from my internet access.
Before leaving for the US and Canada in July (2012), I arranged to have my iPhone untethered from the Telstra network – with a simple phone call to them. They recommended that, when I arrived in the US, my Network settings be set to 3G and Cellular data on but Data Roaming OFF. Several messages from Telstra alerted me that new charges would apply, especially for SMS, and at a higher rate than in Australia. Messages on my iPhone could still be accessed at minimal cost using #101# as a dial in number.
As soon as I arrived in Salt Lake City, I purchased an AT&T SIM for $US50 which gave me a US phone number and unlimited phone calls and texts (without attachments) within the US for the next 30 days. The service at AT&T store was very good indeed – the SIM cards were swapped and the phone checked to make sure it worked just fine. When I moved from the US to Canada, the basic service was automatically switched to Rogers for phone calls and texts – but texts were not free from Canada. I added $US25 for overseas calls (including from Canada back to the US and Australia) and figured I was set for the month.
Not quite so fast, Madam! First of all, finding WiFi hot spots for FREE internet access in the US needs a little pre-planning, through sites like http://www.openwifispots.com/ if you can’t log on through a friend’s account.
Hotel WiFi access needs a password for login and is usually only available for guests; open access free WiFi is not freely available except through places like Starbucks, McDonalds, many Barnes & Noble book shops and some cafes. Airports have WiFi almost everywhere – in boarding areas. However, caution is necessary! BEWARE of Wi-Fi networks called “Free Public Wi-Fi” in airports. You’ll get online but most likely they are fake unsecure networks hoping to steal your information, especially if you use them to log into your bank account or use a credit card.
In Bryant Park in New York, close to my hotel on 6th Avenue, I enjoyed the beautiful gardens, a ride on a carousel, coffee, a free movie on a Monday night and free WiFi. http://www.bryantpark.org New York has an official policy of extending free WiFi through public spaces, as do other big US cities. The City of Perth is to be commended for implementing their new free WiFi policy, as is the City of Swan.
Otherwise, roaming can be accessed through “hot spots”, which usually are not free. For example, through T-Mobile, access to a Hot Spot requires a paid-plan ($US39.99 for a month for unlimited roaming but which can be subject to daily additional charges depending on location, of up to $US6.99 per 24 hour day). One of the biggest mind shifts required is accepting telephone and SMS services have to be accessed separately from the internet – whereas, for an Australian home based customer, both mobile internet access and telephone / SMS services are highly integrated and we rarely think about them being separate services.
Switching my SIM card from Telstra to AT&T had an unexpected glitch. My bank sends a security code to my Australian mobile phone number to authorise any transaction to a new account, when it is done on the internet. In SLC, I used the notebook to book a hotel in Miami, using a friend’s internet. There was a sudden flurry of activity when the SIM card in the phone had to be switched back to Telstra, so I could receive the required security code and authorise the transaction.
Accessing email was a whole new story, since four or five email accounts come to my iPhone. I could RECEIVE bigpond.com email any time I had internet access through WiFi. With Telstra access for SENDING email from the iPhone not a viable option – Gmail.com (Google’s internet based email service) was essential.
Since I already had a Gmail account, it was a fairly simple step to set it up on my iPhone and I quickly found I could reply to my bigpond.com emails, using the SEND FROM Gmail.com account on the iPhone.
Accessing services like Twitter (without free WiFi) are fraught with cost danger but essential when your Bank sends a message that your Debit Card has been temporarily suspended because of an overseas transaction! A quick message on Twitter that asks them to send you a DM, to which you will (and do) respond with confirmation of the questionable purchase, is worth almost any cost as an SMS. Especially after their phone call at 12:45am (local time) to San Francisco dropped out after less than a minute!
Next month, we will update the installation on my iPhone of a phone service that gives virtually free calls to and from the USA and Canada from Australia, while being free within those countries, and how well it has worked.
House sitting in Stoneville is a regular pleasure for me – while Warren and Lisa travel to different parts of the world, sharing their lives with family and friends. One Christmas, they were on their way to Canada while I was holding the fort from my own house, just down the road in Stoneville.
I don’t actually remember who was in residence for them at the time and I see some irony in the fact that the recent photo album put up on Stories My Nana Tells on Facebook called “The Plumber Comes” was for the same house as the one mentioned in my poem, in which I now live with my Dad.
The Fragrance of Christmas
Crabtree & Evelyn Christmas Oil
Blended spices and tangerine,
evergreens, amber and incense.
Environmental Oil, with Dropper
says the box, imbued with the exotic
heady bouquet of foreign lands
Tucked away in my bedside table
A joyous fragrance of northern winters
Each time I open the drawer.
Now, the eyedropper is melted and
the glass holds nothing but little
molten drops of pure essence.
For twelve years this gift allays
my fears while your dreams take you
and your wife to Canada.
Help! The tenants phone for a plumber.
But the landlord and his wife
are on their way to see you, my son.
From the bedside drawer, I take the CD
with their travel notes and numbers.
No friendly plumber listed!
I search the Yellow Pages and scan
your brother’s sparse notes while I telephone,
juggle emails and open web pages.
Frustrated by unanswered phones
and wrong numbers, I fan the CD cover.
A warm and gentle aroma teases me.
I search my memory, and suddenly
I remember with a smile.
It is the fragrance of Christmas, my sons.
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(c) Lesley Dewar July 2012 to current.