International Traveling Technology Travails, Part 1: iPhone Edition
So as you know if you’ve been reading the place we’re currently staying does not have the Internet access advertised, so we’re getting by (barely) on the lone open Wifi network we can find. We have to huddle around one of two windows in the apartment and hope it’s working. Like I’m doing now. But technology issues didn’t start there, oh no, there were a host of technology decisions to be made and issues to be dealt with in preparing for this months long excursion, and more to come.
Of iPhones, Virgin Mobile and Stupid U.S. Laws
About two years ago I finally went and did it, bought myself an iPhone 4s. Having spent much time researching the issue, and being able to do math, I ended up going with Virgin Mobile (U.S. of course, but this is important later). The math comes in here: at the time, there were very few no-contract plans available for the iPhone, and for me Virgin was the best. You pay full price for the phone, but they had a $35/month plan which went down to $30/month with automatic payments. Unlimited text & data and 300 hours of talk, which was perfect for me as talk was one of the least important features for me. I won’t bore you with the actual math, but what it amounted to was a saving of $1200 – $2000 over two years versus any comparable on-contract plan. While all the major carriers are moving to this method, Virgin’s plan is actually still the cheapest for what I want. It runs on Sprint’s network, which has been fine for me as the 4s doesn’t have 4G so the lack of it from Sprint in Peoria hasn’t been an issue.
Always at least one, right? Well in this case it popped up when we learned we were moving to Chile for four months and I started investigating unlocking for phone for international use. I knew when I bought it that at least in theory Virgin Mobile U.S. didn’t unlock, and in my months of research and phone calls learned it was true. While there were theoretical methods of unlocking the phone, I didn’t feel like dealing with the time and expense of doing so. Thus while we’re in Chile, there was no easy way to keep using my number, which I use as my business phone, for calls or texts.
There is one. Because it’s a no contract plan I can just not pay while we’re gone, and they keep the account active for four months, which happens to work out perfectly; we get back two days before my four months would be up, so I can make a payment and be back up and running.
Stupid U.S. Laws
I mentioned earlier that my problem was maybe specific to Virgin Mobile U.S., and to a certain extent that’s true, though it applies to any U.S. carrier. While T-Mobile is leading the way in making out (U.S.) phone useful anywhere without usurious charges, the problems are largely unique to the United States. You see, in researching my issue I kept coming across Virgin Mobile Australia pages talking about how easy it was to unlock your phone for international use; you just call them and ask.
But because we’ve given over control of our country to rich and powerful businesses, in this case the Cellular Cartel, we don’t have laws requiring phone companies to unlock your phone when asked if you’re off contract, and because of the Librarian of Congress’ interpretation of the law (don’t believe me, check out the link), it is actually now illegal in the U.S. to do so on your own. While the major carriers have now voluntarily agreed to unlock phones for those who have completed their contracts, being on an off contract phone on a smaller carrier, this did me no good.
(An aside, I know I’m using Sprint’s network and thus on CDMA, but the iPhone actually has both GSM & CDMA inside it, so I could just slap a sim card in my phone if it were unlocked.)
To Bring or Not To Bring
That was the question, and up to the last minute I still hadn’t decided. I actually had it turned off and put away before changing my mind as literally my last decision before leaving. Why bring a phone that I couldn’t use as a phone? Many reasons:
- It’s still a good, easy to carry around camera/videocamera. While I brought a nicer camera as well, I don’t want to always be hauling it around.
- I could still use it during our two travel days, and it actually came in handy a couple of times for that
- I can still use it for the things I use it for most when we have better wifi access (it can’t read the signal here)
You see, besides being a phone and texting device, it is my primary & initial device for using social media and checking e-mail, which working in the technology field I tend to do quite a bit. So while it currently is being used as a clock and gaming device while in the apartment, it continues to be my go to camera while we’re walking around, and hopefully will find even greater use once we’re settled in our final apartment.
Next Up: Part 2, Cameras