Get 3G (and LTE) Internet connectivity while you travel around the world.
-Be well-connected, well-informed while you travel.
-Be independent of weak hotel WiFi.
-Locally, for mini coaches/Uber/taxi fleets to add value.

The difference between having data and not having data is analogous to this funny 45 seconds Expedia commercial.

Disclaimer

Most people know that when traveling to another country, they can buy a "local SIM card" to avoid paying extremely high roaming charges.
Most people also know that their phones must be "unlocked" if they want to use a foreign SIM card.

With an unlocked phone and a local SIM card, you likely get voice capability and extremely slow 2G (EDGE) data.
However, if you prefer decent data speed (3G or LTE), two more critical issues need to be addressed.

The two critical issues are 3G/LTE frequency band compatibility and APN settings. These are often ignored resulting in disappointment. This article outlines some strategies to correct the problem.

There are useful references to see if your unlocked phone will work with the carrier in the country of interest.
http://willmyphonework.net 
https://www.frequencycheck.com/carriers/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_UMTS_networks
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_LTE_networks

If you need to unlock your phone, you can buy an unlock code online from http://www.sim-unlock.net/

There are 3 modes of operation you can choose, they all have advantages and disadvantages, there is no perfect solution.
(1) Phone mode (2) Tethered mode (3) Mobile Hotspot mode.

Phone mode

own
Disclaimer

In this mode, your phone must be unlocked and you may need to set the correct "APN" to get data to flow and in some cases, set "roaming data" to ON.

Europe and Asia:
For Europe and Asia, the phone must be unlocked and have 3G 2100 MHz [Band 1] (and 3G 900 MHz [Band 8] would be nice).

USA and Canada:
For AT&T (USA), Rogers and Fido (Canada), the phone must be unlocked and have 3G 1900 MHz [Band 2] and 850 MHz [Band 5].
In North America, the term 4G is used but it really means a faster 3G.
In North America, the term LTE has the same meaning as 4G used in Europe/Asia.

Visit http://willmyphonework.net to find out whether your unlocked phone will work in the country you are traveling to.

To manage mobile data consumption
-Turn off media sync:

It is highly recommended that you turn off media sync (pictures and videos) to a cloud because these sync will consumer large amount of data, unless you are in a hotel with unlimited WiFi.
-Turn off app auto-update:
Android's default behavior is that it will automatically update app when new ones are available, you may want to switch it to manual update to conserve mobile data.
-Turn off apps that consumes large amount of data. Rumor is that Facebook App consumes large amount of data.


Tethered mode

hybrid
Use any unlocked, globally capable 3G phone as the "hotspot".
e.g. A globally capable 3G phone has 3G on 2100 MHz (Band 1), 900 MHz (Band 8), 1900 MHz (Band 2), 850 MHz (Band 5).

Pros:
You only need one unlocked phone and one SIM for several phones or tablets.

Cons:
Some carriers will not allow you to do "tethering", that is, while mobile data can be used on the XT1505 itself, you are not allowed to connect another device via WiFi Hotspot. Carriers typically use "deep packet inspection" technology to detect such a violation and block you.

To manage mobile data consumption
-Turn off media sync:

It is highly recommended that you turn off media sync (pictures and videos) to a cloud because these sync will consumer large amount of data, unless you are in a hotel with unlimited free WiFi.
-Turn off app auto-update:
Android's default behavior is that it will automatically update app when new ones are available, you may want to switch it to manual update to conserve mobile data.
-Turn off apps that consumes large amount of data. Rumor is that Facebook App consumes large amount of data.


Mobile Hotspot mode

Suitable for (1) locked phones (2) phones that do not have the correct frequency bands or (3) multiple phones and tablets such as a family road trip or mini coaches (small bus) or Uber vehicles or taxi.

Caveat emptor: some SIMs (e.g. HKCSL and PCCW) require you to dial a special sequence to activate service. Mobile hotspot cannot do dialing, hence it is not practical to use mobile hotspot in some situations.
There are lots of user-friendly SIMs out there, you insert the SIM in a mobile hotspot and it works without dialing special sequence.
The only issue left is to check/adjust the APN setting on the mobile hotspot.
hotspot

Disclaimer

Mobile Hotspot in Europe and Asia:

For Europe and Asia, the Mobile Hotspot must have 3G 2100 MHz [Band 1] (and 900 MHz [Band 8] would be nice).
Huawei E5776s-32 can be used. E5776s-32 has 3G on 2100 MHz [Band 1] and 900 MHz [Band 8].

Mobile Hotspot in Canada:
For Rogers and Fido, the Mobile Hotspot must have 3G 1900 MHz [Band 2] and 3G 850 MHz [Band 5].
Huawei E5776s-32 can be used in USA, Canada, Europe, Asia. It has 3G 1900 MHz and 850 MHz for North America. It lacks LTE bands required for use in USA. Huawei E5776s-32 has LTE Band 7 (2600 MHz) that works with Rogers/Fido LTE in Canada (you need to set APN properly to get data to flow).

Huawei E5776s-32 Mobile Hotspot:
E5776s-32 has the four 3G bands for global roaming on 3G (1900 MHz, 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 2100 MHz).
E5776s-32 has five LTE Bands 2600/2100/1800/900/800 MHz [Band 7,1,3,8,20] This is adequate (i.e. good enough) for LTE global roaming.
Huawei E5776s-32 has a 3000mAH battery yielding 10-hr working time. If you put your phone in airplane mode and turn on the phone's WiFi when you need Internet access, you can greatly extend the operating time of the E5776s-32.
An external antenna with a TS-9 connector and appropriate frequency design can be used with Huawei E5776s-32 to increase the signal strength for stationary or vehicle applications.

To configure a Huawei E5776-s-32 hotspot,
(1) install an APP (iOS and Android) called Huawei HiLink.
(2) insert a SIM (any SIM will do) in the Huawei hotspot, turn the hotspot on.
(3) Use your phone to connect to Huawei's WiFi (Settings..WiFi..)
(4) invoke HiLink.
(5) follow the graphics instructions below.

HiLink instruction

To manage mobile data consumption
-Turn off media sync:

It is highly recommended that you turn off media sync (pictures and videos) to a cloud because these sync will consumer large amount of data, unless you are in a hotel with unlimited WiFi.
-Turn off app auto-update:
Android's default behavior is that it will automatically update app when new ones are available, you may want to switch it to manual update to conserve mobile data.
-Turn off apps that consumes large amount of data. Rumor is that Facebook App consumes large amount of data.

*For Hong Kong CSL, you need to dial a special code to activate a data pass. Huawei E5776s-32 cannot do dialing, hence Mobile Hotspot is a bad choice for Hong Kong CSL, however, Mobile Hotspot can still be used, but only after some excessive geeky tweaking.




Mobile Hotspot for mini coaches, taxi, and Uber vehicles:
For vehicle applications, connect the mobile hotspot to a USB power source using a vehicle USB power adapter. An external antenna with TS-9 connector of appropriate frequency bands can be used to boost the signal. Not all antennae are the same, check carefully and diligently the operating frequency bands of the antenna and your mobile carrier's frequency bands before buying any antenna.


"Global" data SIM cards

aow

Alwaysonlinewireless.com sells a data only SIM card that can be used in many countries around the world.

AOW SIM card can be ordered/activated/top up online. Keep one AOW SIM in your travel bag so that when you cannot find a local SIM, or do not have enough time at the airport to buy a local SIM, or wait for a SIM to arrive via snail mail, you can top up (online) a AOW SIM on the spot and be connected. It is the lowest stress strategy, and for that convenience, you do pay a slightly higher price.

APN setting for AOW SIM is isp.ao.com

Another Global data SIM is

http://www.keepgo.com 

Traveling in USA

You can use AOW SIM for travels in USA. If you visit US frequently, cheaper (but more complicated) options are available, see this page.

Traveling in Canada

Your phone must be unlocked and has 3G 850 MHz [Band 5] and 1900 MHz [Band 2].
A mobile hotspot for Canada should have 3G 850 MHz and 1900 MHz; also nice to have is LTE Band 4 (1700 MHz) and LTE Band 7 (2600 MHz).
Fido's APN is ltemobile.apn

SIM cards for Canada

You can use AOW SIM for travels in Canada. APN setting is isp.ao.com

Roam Mobility (http://roammobility.ca) You can order online a US$35 plan for 7 days (includes SIM, 500 MB data, voice calls in Canada, unlimited global SMS. You phone must have 3G 1900 MHz [Band 2] and 850 MHz [Band 5]. Tethering is allowed.
APN setting is wholesale

Petro-Canada Mobility SIM card can be purchased for $10 online or at Petro-Canada gas stations.
$15 monthly base plan includes 25 minutes of voice, unlimited Canada-wide SMS (texting), add $15 for 500 MB data. There is a $1.25 "911 fees".
Summary: $41.25 gives you 25 minutes voice and 500 MB data in Canada.

To manage mobile data consumption
-Turn off media sync:

It is highly recommended that you turn off media sync (pictures and videos) to a cloud because these sync will consumer large amount of data, unless you are in a hotel with unlimited WiFi.
-Turn off app auto-update:
Android's default behavior is that it will automatically update app when new ones are available, you may want to switch it to manual update to conserve mobile data.

Data SIM for traveling in Europe

Very often, you can find a SIM card (that gives you voice and data, or data only) at the arriving airport. Look for major carrier such as Vodafone at the airport.

Alwaysonlinewireless.com sells a data SIM card that can be used in many countries around the world.
This SIM card can be ordered online, activated online, and top up online. Keep this SIM handy so that when you cannot find a local SIM when you arrive at the airport, or do not have enough time to wait for a SIM to ship via mail, you can just top up this SIM and be connected. It is the lowest stress method. APN setting is isp.ao.com

For that convenience and reduced stress level, you do pay a higher price compared to a pure local SIM that you may or may not be able to find at the airport or in town.

http://www.gosim.com/   European wide-area roaming data SIM cards. I used this data SIM with a (3G 2100 MHz) Mobile Hotspot in 2014, it worked in Italy (TIM), Switzerland (Swisscom), France (Orange, SFR), Luxembourg (Orange), Germany (Telekom, EPLUS), Netherlands (TMO), Belgium (BASE) and UK (TMO). APN setting for this SIM is mobiledata

http://www.telestial.com/   European data SIM cards.  APN setting is mobiledata

http://www.prepaidzero.com  European data SIM cards. APN setting is mobiledata

http://shop.ee.co.uk  European SIM cards.

http://www.prepaidsimcard.org  European SIM cards.

http://www.simcardspain.es  SIM cards for Spain, the seller is responsive and user friendly. Best time to buy a Vodafone SIM is 30 days before your trip begins.

To manage mobile data consumption
-Turn off media sync:

It is highly recommended that you turn off media sync (pictures and videos) to a cloud because these sync will consumer large amount of data, unless you are in a hotel with unlimited WiFi.
-Turn off app auto-update:
Android's default behavior is that it will automatically update app when new ones are available, you may want to switch it to manual update to conserve mobile data.
-Turn off apps that consumes large amount of data. Rumor is that Facebook App consumes large amount of data.

Data SIM card for China

Alwaysonlinewireless.com sells a data only SIM card that can be used in many countries around the world. It is generally more expensive than a local SIM, but the reward is that you don't have to do any SIM card hunting at the arrival airport or wait for a SIM card to arrive in snail mail.

AOW SIM card can be ordered/activated/top up online.
 
APN setting for AOW SIM is isp.ao.com

China Unicom's Hong Kong branch sells a data SIM for China and Hong Kong.
Online purchase of data SIM from Hong Kong Unicom Global Store (based in Hong Kong, global shipping by very snail mail)

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China Unicom 7 days 2GB data SIM for use in China/Hong Kong (online order, when registering, enter the address field first)

In Hong Kong, you can find a brick and mortar China Unicom store in Sham Shui Po 深水埗 MTR D2 Exit ( location 22.33165, 114.16252 ), intersection of Fuk Wa Street and Kweilin Street (福華街 交叉 桂林街). Another China Unicom store is in Mongkok 旺角西洋菜 南街 1A-1K 號 (location  22.316552, 114.170556 ) Use Google Map to search for other China Unicom stores in Hong Kong.

APN setting for China Unicom China SIM is 3gnet  
You may have to reboot your phone after you change SIM card.

China Unicom mainland uses 3G 2100 MHz Band 1; LTE is Band 3 (1800 MHz) and Band 41 (TD 2500 MHz)
China Unicom Hong Kong uses 3G 2100 MHz Band 1  and 3G 900 MHz Band 8; LTE is Band 8 (900 MHz), Band 3 (1800 MHz) and Band 7 (2600 MHz).

To manage mobile data consumption
-Turn off media sync:

It is highly recommended that you turn off media sync (pictures and videos) to a cloud because these sync will consumer large amount of data, unless you are in a hotel with unlimited WiFi.
-Turn off app auto-update:
Android's default behavior is that it will automatically update app when new ones are available, you may want to switch it to manual update to conserve mobile data.
-Turn off apps that consumes large amount of data. Rumor is that Facebook App consumes large amount of data.

Data SIM cards for Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Macau, Australia

  j k t

China Unicom
online store sells a variety of data SIM card for this Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Macau and Australia.
(online order, when registering, enter the address field first)

In Japan's Narita Airport, you can find SIM card vending machines that sell U-Mobile data SIM (cash only) and NTT data SIM (credit cards accepted).
APN and authentication instructions are in the package.
Narita-T2

SIM card (with voice and data) for Hong Kong

You need to dial something to activate or top up these cards.
A Mobile Hotspot cannot do dialing, therefore it is a bad idea to use mobile hotspots with these cards.

tourist SIM

CSL-PCCW-HKT Discover Hong Kong Tourist SIM Card.

Several choices (but don't expect all stores will stock all variants):
-5 days 1.5GB data
-5 days 5GB data (3G speed data)
-8 days 5GB data (LTE speed data)
If your stay is longer than 8 days, you can extend the service by increments of 7 days for HK$50 with 1.5 GB data: buy a $50 PCCW voucher to add to your account.
Dial *131# (send), follow the on-screen instruction. After a purchase confirmation SMS is received, rebooting the phone is necessary to activate the extended service (e.g. airplane mode on, airplane mode off).
You get unlimited local voice calls (and unlimited access to 13,000 PCCW WiFi hotspots throughout Hong Kong).

You can buy PCCW SIM cards from CSL or PCCW stores in Hong Kong, or Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Center Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry terminal
( Lat/Lon 22.294, 114.16845 ) (MGRS 50QKK0824668106 ) or at NCIX (Netlink Computer Inc.) in Canada.
APN setting is CSL or PCCW
To check balance, dial ##122#

CSL

(old name is One2free) SIM card. CSL SIM cards come in extremely perplexing choices.
Phone mode is a must because you need to use a dialpad to purchase data passes.

c
If you have the "$100 All-in-one" card, you can buy:
$38 300MB 30-day data pass (dial *101*835*1#) or
$68 3 GB 7-day data pass (dial *101*532*3#) or
$208 1GB 30-day data pass (dial *101*835*2#)
APN setting is hkcsl or PCCW
To check your CSL data usage, dial *101#
To check your CSL account balance, dial *109#

idd
If you have the "one2free IDD & Roaming $98" card, you can buy:
$38 300MB 30-day data pass (dial *101*833*2#) or
$78 7-day data pass (dial *101*832*4#) or
$88 1GB 30-day data pass (dial *101*833*3#)
APN setting is hkcsl or PCCW
To check your CSL data usage, dial *101#
To check your CSL account balance, dial *109#

See this wikia page for more information.

To manage mobile data consumption
-Turn off media sync:

It is highly recommended that you turn off media sync (pictures and videos) to a cloud because these sync will consumer large amount of data, unless you are in a hotel with unlimited WiFi.
-Turn off app auto-update:
Android's default behavior is that it will automatically update app when new ones are available, you may want to switch it to manual update to conserve mobile data.
-Turn off apps that consumes large amount of data. Rumor is that Facebook App consumes large amount of data.

Data-only SIM cards (for South East Asia) at major airports in China

SIM card vending machines now appear at major airports in China (typically at Departure Level), these are perfect for people leaving China to other countries.

snail-vending-machine



Bring a pocket WiFi router when traveling

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A TP-Link "TL-WR802N" or similar WiFi router can be used to convert a wired-Internet connection to WiFi.
Why? Some hotels provide legacy wired-Internet connectors. In situations where there is no in-room WiFi or weak WiFi, a pocket WiFi router offers a tool to deal with the problem.

© 2017 Nicholas Fong

nicholas.fong@gmail.com

Last updated: 2017-09-19

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