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 ridiculously 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 GSM phone and a local SIM card, you likely can get voice capability and ridiculously slow 2G (EDGE) data.
However, if you like decent data speed (3G or LTE), two more critical issues need to be addressed.

Critical issues of 3G frequency band compatibility and APN settings are often ignored, resulting in disappointment and waste of money. This article outlines some suggestions to fix the problem and focuses on obtaining 3G/LTE mobile data when traveling outside your home country.

These 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

When you travel overseas, you can choose to be using (1) Phone mode or (2) Tethered mode or (3) Mobile Hotspot mode.

Phone mode (easiest to use and understand)

own
Disclaimer

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].
Note: T-Mobile US rural and WIND Mobile (Canada) use 3G 1700 MHz [Band 4] which is not used elsewhere. To fix that problem, T-Mobile US aggressively added 3G 1900 MHz [Band 2] and LTE 1900 MHz [Band 2] in most areas. In North America, the term 4G is often used, it really means 3G on steroid. 4G in North America should not to be confused with LTE. LTE has an incompatible protocol stack with 3G.

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 (very similar to phone mode; one SIM for several phones and tablets)

hybrid
Use any unlocked, globally capable 3G phone.
e.g. Motorola E 2nd Generation Global GSM phone (XT1505, 2400 mAH battery) has 2100 MHz (Band 1), 900 MHz (Band 8), 1900 MHz (Band 2), 850 MHz (Band 5).
Motorola XT1505 is a globally capable 3G phone.

Pros:
Tethered mode has an advantage that you only need one SIM for multiple phones/tablets and the other phones do not need to be unlocked.

Cons:
Tethered mode has a big disadvantage that 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: (e.g. mini coaches, taxis)
Suitable for (1) locked phones and/or (2) phones that do not have the correct frequency bands and (3) multiple tablets/phones simultaneous use such as family road trip or mini coaches.

Some carriers require a phone to dial a special sequence to activate/use a new SIM. Mobile hotspot is not very user friendly for most travelers.
Mobile hotspot should be used for special situations.
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).
A low cost entry level Huawei Mobile Hotspot E5330 can be used. It has 2100 MHz and 900 MHz.

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 E5377s-32 can be used as a 3G Mobile Hotspot in USA, Canada, Europe, Asia. It has 3G 1900 MHz and 850 MHz.
Huawei E5377s-32 has LTE Band 7 (2600 MHz), it works with Rogers/Fido LTE in Canada (see below about APN settings to get data to flow).

Huawei E5377s-32 "Universal" Mobile Hotspot:
Huawei E5377s-32 is a new generation of globally-capable 3G-4G-LTE mobile hotspot. See this specifications page (PDF).
E5377s-32 has the four 3G bands for global roaming (1900 MHz, 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 2100 MHz).
E5377s-32 has six LTE Bands 2600/2100/1800/900/850/800 MHz [Band 7,1,3,8,5,20] This is sufficient for LTE global roaming, not 100%, but good enough.
Huawei E5377s-32 has a small 1500 mAH battery yielding 6-hr working time. By adding a 2600 mAH external power bank, you can extend it to 12 hours working time.
An external antenna with a TS-9 connector and appropriate frequency bands can be used with the Huawei E5377s-32 to increase the signal strength for stationary or vehicle applications.

To configure Huawei E5377-s-32 hotspot,
(1) install an APP (for 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 E5377s-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 Battery Issue:
Typical mobile hotspots have a battery life of 4 to 6 hours. Higher end hotspots have higher capacity battery that can last up to 10+ hours.
For small battery hotspots, one strategy is to turn on the hotspot only when you need to access the Internet. Another strategy is to use an external USB power pack to power the hotspot for extended operating hours.

For mini coaches applications, you can connect the mobile hotspot to a USB power source using vehicle power. An external antenna with TS-9 connector of appropriate frequency bands can boost the signal when moving on the highway far from cell towers. Not all antennae are the same, check carefully and diligently the operating frequency bands of the antenna and your mobile carrier frequency bands before buying.


Mobile data for traveling around the world
A Universal SIM card

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.

Mobile data for traveling in USA

See this page.

Traveling in Canada

Phone requirement:

Make sure your phone is unlocked and has 3G 850 MHz [Band 5] and 1900 MHz [Band 2] or else you will be wasting time and money. A mobile hotspot for Canada should have 3G 850 MHz and 1900 MHz; nice to have is LTE Band 4 (1700 MHz) and LTE Band 7 (2600 MHz).

Using Huawei E5337-s32 in Canada

E5377
For Rogers SIM, leave the E5377s-32 in factory default mode and it will automatically set the APN correctly.
For Fido SIM, you need to enable roaming and add a profile called Fido and set the APN to ltemobile.apn

SIM cards for use in Canada

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.
Roam Mobility seems to be the best option for travelers to Canada.

Petro-Canada Mobility SIM card can be purchased online for $10.
$15 Monthly Plan includes 25 minutes of voice, unlimited Canada-wide SMS, 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.

Fido Data SIM: If you have a trusted friend in Canada with a (post-paid) monthly Fido account, your friend can get a Fido-SIM and a "Data Plan for Mobile Hospot" (aka Flexible data plan) added to his monthly bill. The Flexible data plan is $10 for the first 150MB, $25 up to 1GB. After you leave Canada, your friend calls Fido to cancel the plan, your friend may face a mildly irritated (but polite) Fido agent because your friend started and cancels a "plan", it is all above board & played by Fido's own rules. Getting a Fido SIM provisioned must be done at a Fido store and is very time consuming.

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.

China Unicom global online store sells 15 day 1GB data SIM that can be used in many countries in Europe.
When registering for online purchase, enter the address field first before entering you name field.
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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.keepgo.com  SIM cards for many countries

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

http://www.lefrenchmobile.com Data SIM for France, Germany, Israel and Poland.

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

In France, you can find an Orange store to buy a SIM card and add top up.

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 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.

China Unicom HK data SIM card for China and Hong Kong.
Online purchase of data SIM from Hong Kong Unicom Global Store (based in Hong Kong, global shipping):

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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  Typically this setting is set automatically by your phone when a China Unicom SIM is inserted. It is advisable 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 (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.

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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#

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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: 2017-08-16

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