Sunday, January 13, 2013

Struggle for Mobile Data

I’d done my research about getting a SIM to allow me to keep all the benefits provided by access to the internet on the move – and in the USA it looked like it might be rather convoluted – including purchasing a pre-paid VISA card to use to pay for a month-to-month contract, then cancel it after I left the country…

In Australia and New Zealand it had been incredibly simple – less than 15 minutes at the airport, only complicated in Australia, by the fact you couldn’t use a non-Australian credit card to top up you account – and Vodafone Australia failed to let you know why your attempts to credit your account were failing any where on their website or the automated phone system….

So I was pleasantly surprise when checking where the nearest AT&T shop open on a Sunday was, to notice that their goPhone, pay as you go (PAYG), plan had added the ability to add data as a “feature packages” – on top of the unlimited data if you didn’t have a smart phone….

Acquiring a goPhone SIM involved a pleasant mile long walk amongst the skyscrapers of downtown Miami. The sales person in the store wasn’t aware that you could add data on a smart phone to a goPhone contract – but I decided to go ahead anyway despite the rather step $50 for the unlimited plan, plus $25 “activation charge” – plus of course taxes… Even if I only ended up with a mobile phone with free calls within the US, that would be useful to avoid expensive hotel calls, or international roaming charges on my “home” numbers….

Returning to Wi-Fi coverage at my Hotel, I was pleasantly surprised when AT&T allowed me to charge the rather expensive $25 for 1GB to my Amex – despite having to declare my home state as being Florida and enter a ZIP code rather than the correct post code…

That is where the frustration began, it didn’t work despite texts from AT&T indicating I’d added data to my goPhone account…

After a few more Google searches it was apparent that it was certainly possible to use goPhone data on an iPhone – but mine refused to work – so I call AT&T… Having battled past their automated system that attempts to keep you away from actually speaking to someone using voice recognition – which it did quite well with the only benefit of not having to “Select 1 to do X, Select 2 to do Y, etc.…” The system had the incredible addition of fake typing noises when it had to pause to think. It took a while, but I eventually persuade the system it couldn’t help me and to let me speak to a real person… To give AT&T credit, for a Sunday afternoon I was quickly talking to someone, but then it when down hill…

“Sir – your iPhone 4S is a very good phone, but goPhone data only works on SmartPhones not iPhones”

That wasn’t stated anywhere in the documentation or on AT&T’s website and other people’s experiences would indicate that wasn’t the case….

“You can’t access data because AT&T haven’t finished upgrading all our cell towers to support 4G on goPhone – the iPhone 4S supports 4G so it won’t work”

The poor call centre person that ended up trying to assist me, rather than watch the NFL play off games, understood my frustration – and did have the good grace to offer to refund the $25 I’d paid to add data to my phone – but that would still leave me $78 out of pocket without mobile data…

The reference to it being a problem with 4G not being available to goPhone users gave me some hope – I’d seen that with my GiffGaff SIM in the phone connected to AT&T there was an option to switch off 4G data – and any data would be great…. So I thanked the rather flustered support person, promising to call back for the offer of a refund if switching off 4G data didn’t work – not something I could test while still talking to him…. 

That is when I discovered that in their wisdom, AT&T had chosen to remove all the option within the iPhone that allows you to check/set the mobile data configuration when you inserted their SIM. Possibly a good way of stopping people fiddling with them, and then having to calling customer support to set them back to the correct values – but that is only a good ideal if you set the configuration correctly automatically!

Then, when I was just about to resign my self to either not having mobile data or having to try again, out of pocket by $78, with one of the other networks, I returned to Google – refining my searches to include APN – the hidden set of setting, normally correctly applied automatically when you insert a providers SIM that which configure your device to connect to mobile data from that source. I’ve had issues with these settings before when using a GiffGaff SIM – the GiffGaff SIM is really an O2 SIM, and sets your phone correctly if you had a O2 contact, but you don’t, and need to configure you phone to use GiffGaff’s infrastructure… GiffGaff are very aware of this and don’t hide the menus that allow you to set the needed configuration manually and even provide a simple way of setting them from their iPhone application.

This was a good line to investigate – I quickly found pages indicating people had successfully configured iPhone 4S devices to use goPhone mobile data – then I got lucky – thanks go to Jay Versluis’s page and Unlockit I soon had mobile data working…. Live Google maps on the move will make navigation so much easier. More Facebook posts, Tweets and FourSquare checkins will also occur…

The small UK, user supported, GiffGaff out performed one of the largest mobile network provided in the world on this occasion…. AT&T was recommended to me because their customer support was better than the alternatives – I hate to think how bad the alternatives are… Surely AT&T’s FAQs for support staff, if not their customers, should know about why on inserting the SIM, mobile data doesn’t work on an iPhone 4S ( and possibly other iPhones), rather than have the supports staff making stuff up!

Yet again the internet provided the solution – ironically to getting me access to the internet as I explore…

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