Get Internet connectivity while you travel around the world.

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.

In addition to getting a local SIM, 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 several references to see if your 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

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

Pros: Easy to understand, you have a "local number" (except the data-only SIM).

Cons: You loose your own home-town number during the trip. Phone must have the correct frequency bands.

Your phone must be unlocked and you may need to set the correct "APN" to get data to flow, in most cases, set "roaming data" to ON. See your SIM card provider's instruction.

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].

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 often 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.


Tethered mode

hybrid
Use any unlocked, globally capable phone as the "mobile hotspot".

Pros:
You only need one unlocked phone and one SIM for several phones or tablets. In some situations, this mode is preferred over the mobile hotspot mode (see below) by using a mobile phone as a mobile hotspot.

Cons:
Some carriers will not allow you to do "tethering", that is, while mobile data can be used on the phone 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.


Mobile Hotspot mode:
- for mini coaches/ride share/taxi fleets
- for family road trips

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 ride share vehicles or taxi.

Check or add APN on the mobile hotspot.

Pros: You can keep your home-town phone's number while traveling. You don't have to unlock any phone or worry about frequency bands compatibility.
Cons: Mobile hotspot are more complex to setup, an alternative is to consider using a dedicated phone as a mobile hotspot (Tethered mode). Mobile hotpots with long battery life (10 hrs) typically cost a lot more than a comparable phone.
hotspot

e.g. 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 2100/1800/2600/900/800 MHz [Band 1,3,7,8,20] This is adequate (i.e. good enough) for LTE global roaming except USA.
-For pedestrian use, 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 hotspot.
-For vehicle applications (ride share, Uber, taxi), connect the mobile hotspot to a USB power source using a vehicle USB cigarette power adapter.

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. Warning: not all antennae are the same, check carefully and diligently the operating frequency bands of the antenna to best match your mobile carrier's frequency bands before buying any mobile antenna.

For details on how to configure a Huawei E5776-s-32 hotspot, see this page.

Mobile Hotspot in Europe and Asia:

For Europe and Asia, LTE bands 1,3,7,8,20 are commonly used. Huawei E5776s-32 can be used.
You may need to set APN properly to get data to flow.

Mobile Hotspot in Canada:

Fido in Canada use LTE band 7. Huawei E576-s32 has 3G bands and LTE Band 7 for use with Fido Canada.
You need to set APN to ltemobile.apn to get data to flow.

Mobile Hotspot in USA:
LTE bands 2,4,5,12 are used by AT&T. LTE bands 2,4,12,66 are used by T-Mobile US.
Huawei E57776-s32 has 3G bands for AT&T and T-Mobile but completely lacks LTE band used by AT&T and T-Mobile.


"Global" data SIM card

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 hunt for a local SIM, you can top up (online) the 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 is isp.ao.com

Traveling in USA

You can use AOW SIM for travels in USA. AOW uses T-Mobile US as service provider, the preferred LTE frequency bands are B2 and B4 (and B66).
You can also use roammobility.com SIM for travels in USA. Roam Mobility uses T-Mobile US as service provider.

Traveling in Canada

Your phone must be unlocked and has 3G 850 MHz [Band 5] and 1900 MHz [Band 2].
Canadian operators use LTE Bands 2,4,5,7,12
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 should have 3G 1900 MHz [Band 2] and 850 MHz [Band 5], LTE bands are B2, B4, B5, B7, B12
APN setting for Roam Mobility is wholesale

Petro-Canada Mobility SIM card can be purchased for $10 online or at Petro-Canada gas stations.

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 (or over WiFi only) to conserve mobile data.

SIM cards for Hong Kong

https://www.hkcsl.com/en/discover-hk-tourist-prepaid-sim/

Discover Hong Kong Tourist SIM Card:
-5 days, 3GB data HK$88
-8 days, 8GB data HK$118
Included is unlimited local voice calls (and unlimited access to 20,000 csl WiFi hotspots).

tourist sim

You can get the SIM at 1010 Center in town, including the new outlet at 5/F of HKG Airport Arrival Hall, 7-eleven, Circle K or VanGO convenience stores, csl shops or HKT shops.

You can also buy the SIM from Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Center Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry terminal
( Lat/Lon 22.294, 114.16845 ) (MGRS 50QKK08246810 )

To check balance, dial ##122#

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.

SIM cards for Europe

Very often, you can find a SIM card 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, 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.

China Unicom online store sells a data SIM card for Europe (online order, when registering, enter the address field first).

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.

https://www.holidayphone.com/ 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.

SIM cards 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 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 slow snail mail) (To online order, when registering, enter the address field first)

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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). You can top up online.

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  22.316566, 114.1706 ) Use Google Map to search for other China Unicom stores in Hong Kong.

APN setting for China Unicom China SIM is 3gnet  

When you use this card in mainland China, you have to turn on Roaming Data because the SIM card is a Hong Kong SIM, it is considered roaming when you are in China.

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.

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

  j k t

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

SIM card for Japan

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.

SIM cards 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.
Unfortunately they do not sell SIM cards for use in China. Currently these vending machines are installed at Beijing Capital, Shanghai Pudong, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xian, Fuzhou, Wuxi, Lanzhou, Dalian, Qingdao, Yantai, Kunming, Shenyang, Zhengzhou, Xiamen, Changsha, Shenzhen Ferry Terminals.

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 (very few now) only 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.

© 2019 Nicholas Fong

nicholas.fong@gmail.com

Last updated: 2019-02-25

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