Phone/Internet Service Spain/France

I realize I haven’t touched on this as of yet. Being that I need internet and phone service to conduct business and to get around town in general I’ve done quite a bit to make that happen. I am currently utilizing my iPhone 4s and a MIFI unit from Huawei (the E5331). I was a bit nervous before I left that I would be unable to access my emails while on the trip and also be unable to access Google Maps (which I use 100 times a day). However, so far, I have found that I’ve been able to find good solutions for cell/data service.

MIFI:

The mifi unit I bought was around $85 dollars and it comes completely UNLOCKED, which means you can use any telecom provider for it. This is great and much easier then the process of getting an unlocked phone.

iPhone:

This was not easy. I knew that I really wanted a smartphone so I would be able to use apps like email, google maps, internet, yelp/foursquare, etc. I called AT&T to see what options I had for getting international coverage for both data and voice on my current phone. After 2 hours on the phone we got a $200ish dollar plan set up. (the plans were all quite expensive and the data plans specifically didnt offer much in the way of actual bandwith. They don’t have any gigabit or more plans and everything was in the low hundreds (200-300 megabits) of data allowance. Anyone who uses their smartphone on a regular basis for internet/email/apps/etc knows that this is not enough for a whole month of usage. But, this was my only option for now so I went with it. I had my mifi (see below) and a basic, unlocked phone from a friend which I would get local sim cards for.  Before the end of the call the rep informed me that I may be able to actually unlock my phone and get sim cards for that. OK!! now we are talking… lets do that.

Now the plan was to unlock the phone, get local sims, and hopefully call to cancel the international plan after I saw how successful (or not) I was in getting the local sims to work.

The process of unlocking the phone was a COMPLETE BITCH!! I was told by the original rep that all I had to do was a backup and restore through iTunes and the phone would be unlocked. When I did it I received no form of notification or message telling me it was or wasn’t. So I called and spoke to another rep. They told me the same deal, backup/restore. Mind you this whole process including calling the reps takes about an hour so I was beginning to get very frustrated. After the second call I still had no way of knowing if the phone was unlocked.

I called back again and spoke with a supervisor. Apparently there is a big problem with people illegally unlocking phones and Apple is really cracking down. The only way they would even let me do it was buy terminating my contract (for $175). I threw a little bit of a fit (as I tend to do when I feel like I can get something comped for the hassle I’ve been put through). I told the supervisor I was super pissed because I’ve now wasted hours and hours of my time, been told all different things… blah blah blah. I ended up with $300+ in credit onto my account to pay for the termination and also pay for the international plan… BIG TIME SCORE.

We were able to work out the issue with the unlock and I was assured by the supervisor that the phone would work with another sim when I arrived in Europe (hoping for the best at this point). [note: I also found out that apple is no longer allowing you to unlock your iPhone (this is what I was told). So I am lucky to have gotten in there before they put the kibash (?) on it].

Orange:

When I arrived in Spain a few weeks ago I was able to find an “Orange” store/kiosk in the airport. Orange is a telecom provider here in Europe similar to AT&T or Verizon. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to pop a SIM card into the mifi unit and be able to access the internet on my phone/computer almost instantly. Awesome!

Next up was the phone and again, no problem and we were able to make local calls, browse the web, use apps, etc. Phew!! All that bullshit worked out in the end. Thank g0odness.

I was able to get a 2 Gig plan for my MIFI and a 300 MB plan for my phone all for around $80. Yes, it is expensive but I wanted to make sure I had reliable, uninterrupted service. (Orange worked EVERYWHERE for me in Spain). I did have to ‘reload’ my sim card on my phone to get more data allowance which cost me like $10-$15. All in All, Orange in Spain was the perfect solution I need for the 3 weeks I was there.

Orange (France)…. not so perfect of a solution. 

The second I walked into the Orange store in France I felt like I was in trouble. They didn’t have an Orange kiosk or anything in there airport so I went straight to my host in Floriac (0utside bordeaux) and figured they could help me find one. We did find one somewhat local and went for it.

The women (sorry ladies, but I have truly found that when dealing with tech stores/products the guys tend to know more.. just my experience) who helped us tried to make it look like she knew what she was doing but I was not confident. I wont bore you with the details but after spending $85 for both phone and mifi service I was told…. “don’t worry, they will both start working soon and the service isn’t good here in the mall. it should work when you get home”. after looking the supervisor (yes, we had to get escalated to a supervisor) in the eye and saying “are you 100% sure this is going to work?” and him saying “sure” (bullshit)… we left.

Obviously, we ended up going back the next day to a different telecom provider (SFR) and see if THEY could get my stuff to work. 5 minutes later I was up and running, 10 minutes later I had my refund from the idiots at Orange and I was back up and running.

My gut told me that these people had no idea if my devices were going to work and I shouldn’t leave the store until they did. I felt bad for my host who was helping me and went against my gut and just left. Next time, either it works or I return it right away.

Conclusion:

All in all the MIFI has worked GREAT. I am really happy I bought it and haven’t had to rely on wifi for computer access (wifi access has been spotty in many of the places I’ve stayed). I am also really happy I was able to get my iPhone unlocked. As silly as it sounds, it ‘s almost like a security blanket. When it turns on and works and you can access all your apps and the internet it’s a relief. I really believe I can figure out how to get around and get by in any of the cities I am visiting as long as I have my phone and a data plan.

Leave a Reply