Get 3G, 4G, LTE mobile data when traveling in USA

See this page for countries other than USA

Roam Mobility (most user friendly for short term visitors to urban and sub-urban USA)

website for Roam Mobility:  http://www.roammobility.com/

Coverage: Roam Mobility is a MVNO of T-Mobile (re-seller), it uses T-Mobile infrastructure, therefore it has the same coverage as T-Mobile.
3G frequency band: same as T-Mobile (see below) because Roam Mobility does operate any infrastructure.
Voice, voice + data, or data-only: Roam Mobility has flexible plans to suit your need.

Phone mode:
phone
Use an unlocked phone that has 3G 1900 MHz or LTE 1900 MHz.
Check the APN setting of the phone, it should be wholesale

Mobile Hotspot mode:
z915
Roam Mobility SIM has the same MCC and MNC as T-Mobile SIM, therefore Roam Mobility SIM works in locked T-Mobile mobile hotspots except you may need to change the APN setting.
Login to your mobile hotspot with a web browser (http://192.168.0.1 or http://192.168.1.1 ), change APN setting from epc.tmobile.com or fast.t-mobile.com to wholesale

huawei
Huawei E5377s-32 works with Roam Mobility SIM. Battery life is only 6 hours.
APN for a Roam Mobility SIM inside a Huawei E5377s-32 hotspot is automatically set correctly.

Roam Mobility SIM:
roam
In Canada: You can buy Roam Mobility SIM from London Drugs, Best Buy, Staples and a few others places.
See Roam Mobility website for more information.
SIM activation:
It can be activated online

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.

SIM Expiration:
Use once every 12 months and it does not die.


China Unicom voice and data SIM for USA

China Unicom (select the Hong Kong English site) online store sells a SIM card for use in US with unlimited US calls and 2G LTE data, the card is good for 30 days.
When you register to buy online, enter your address first before entering your name.
Tethering and hotspot are not allowed.


T-Mobile

Coverage:
T-Mobile US has excellent 3G and LTE coverage in US cities. In some rural area, data rate drops to painful 2G speed (EDGE), or no coverage at all.
See T-Mobile interactive coverage map for details.

3G and 4G (HSPA+) frequency bands:
Mainly 1900 MHz (Band 2). 1700 MHz (Band 4) may still be in use in suburban.

4G-LTE:
Mainly LTE Band 2 (1900 MHz). Band 4 (1700 MHz) is used in the past and it seems to be shifting in favour of Band 2 LTE.

T-Mobile bought LTE Band 12 spectrum (700 MHz) in some states for expanding its coverage, mostly for rural areas.
T-Mobile's LTE network upgrade includes Ericsson RBS 6000 base stations.

Voice+data vs. data-only:
Due to the high cost of voice+data plans, data-only plan is probably more suitable for tourists (i.e., Mobile Hotspot plan)

Mobile Hotspots:
For T-Mobile USA, the Mobile Hotspot should have 3G 1900 MHz (urban and sub-urban areas). In some rural areas, T-Mobile is still using 3G 1700 MHz (Band 4).
For newer deployment, the Mobile Hotspot should have LTE 1900 MHz.

z915
(1a) T-Mobile Z915 Mobile Hotspot
It has LTE Band 2 (1900 MHz), Band 4 (1700 MHz), Band 12 (700 MHz). This is a perfect match to T-Mobile's deployment.
It has 3G 1900 MHz (Band 2), 1700 MHz (Band 4), 850 MHz (Band 5), 2100 MHz (Band 1 for roaming in Europe Asia if you are rich enough to pay roaming data charges).
Battery capacity is 2800 mAH. I get over 12 hours of light duty use using a Z915.
My Z915 can achieve 20 Mbps down/20 Mbps up in Blaine, WA and 35 Mbps down/28 Mbps up in Bellingham, WA.
To access the admin screen, connect your tablet to the Z915's WiFi, open a web browser, http://mobile.hotspot/ or http://192.168.0.1/

(1b) T-Mobile Falcon Z917 Mobile Hotspot
It has LTE 2,4,12; 3G 850/1900/1700. It has a smaller 2000 mAH battery. The display is super minimal, consists of some idiot lights and therefore not very informative.

(1c) T-Mobile Z64 Mobile Hotspot
This entry level model has 3G 850/1900/1700 but missing LTE bands. In some areas, you get nothing while other devices with LTE Band 2 has a strong signal (e.g. Newport, Oregon, May 2016).

huawei
(4) Huawei E5377s-32 works with T-Mobile SIM (or Roam Mobility) (3G only, I got 15 Mbps down/4 Mbps up).
E5377s-32 can be used in Asia and Europe (3G and LTE bands).
Battery life is approximately 6 hours.
Open a web browser, http://192.168.8.1 to connect to the Huawei E5377s-32 configuration screen or use Huawei's HiLink app.

An external antenna with TS-9 connector can be used with Huawei E5377s-32 to increase the signal strength, for stationary or mobile applications.

In Mobile Hotspot mode, your phone can be in roaming mode, don't answer incoming calls or you will incur large roaming and long distance charges.
*Some carriers may charge a fee in roaming mode even without making any calls, or a fee for receiving SMS while roaming, check with your home carrier for these fees before you let your phone in roaming mode, otherwise, switch your phone to airplane mode or remove your home carrier's SIM card from the phone.
You get your personal WiFi on the go, use Viber, Hangout, Skype, etc. to make voice calls to traditional landlines or mobile phones.


Phone mode:
The mobile hotspot plan cannot make phone calls so there is no advantage in using phone mode.
If you must use phone mode, after activating the Data SIM inside a T-Mobile Mobile Hotspot, relocate the SIM to an unlocked phone that has 3G 1700 MHz or 3G 1900 MHz (most cities)
APN setting of the phone is (3G) epc.tmobile.com or (LTE) fast.t-mobile.com

Use Viber, Hangout, Skype, etc. to make voice calls to traditional landlines phones.

T-Mobile "SIM Starter Kit"
starter
Buy a T-Mobile SIM Starter Kit from T-Mobile store.

Best activation method:
Best is to physically go to a T-Mobile store, buy a SIM card and ask the store representative to activate the SIM for a Mobile Hotspot data-pass plan.
If you cannot visit a T-Mobile brick and mortar store, choose one of the following:

Other activation methods:

(1) When you are in a good T-Mobile signal area, insert a T-Mobile Data SIM card into a T-Mobile hotspot. Connect your laptop/phone/tablet WiFi to the Mobile Hotspot. 
Open a web browser and go to T-Mobile.com/ConnectMe to start the activation dialogue.
(2) Call T-Mobile 1.877.778.2107 for SIM card activation; or 1.800.937.8997 to talk to a T-Mobile representative.
(3) Activate on line http://www.t-mobile.com/Activation which eventually takes you back to step (1) above.

T-Mobile Refill:

T-Mobile refill PIN are available from T-Mobile stores, Walmart stores, 7-11 or BestBuy stores.
Go to http://mim.t-mobile.com/ to refill and purchase data passes, the refill portal accepts US, Canada, UK, Mexico credit cards

T-Mobile data passes:
Mobile Hotspots T-Mobile data passes have these choices: 1-day 500 MB for $5, 7-day 1GB for $10, 30-day 3GB for $30 etc.

SIM Expiration:
T-Mobile SIM does not expire as long as you buy a data pass at least once a year.

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.


AT&T

Coverage:
AT&T has extensive 3G coverage in large and small US cities including secondary highways.
See this coverage map: http://www.att.com/maps/wireless-coverage.html

3G frequency bands:
1900 MHz and 850 MHz

4G:
AT&T 4G network is a 3G network with higher data throughput (HSPA+).

4G-LTE frequency bands:
LTE uses band 4 (1700 MHz), band 2 (1900 MHz), band 5 (850 MHz) and band 17 (700 MHz)

Voice+data vs. data-only:
Due to the high cost of AT&T voice+data plans, "Mobile Hotspot Plan" (data only plan) is more suitable for short term visits.

Mobile Hotspots:
velocity
AT&T Velocity (ZTE Model MG923) has 3G 1900 MHz and 850 MHz. It has LTE Bands 2 (1900 MHz), 4 (1700 MHz), 5 (850 MHz) and 17 (700 MHz). Battery life is 10 hours.
MG923 has the perfect frequency bands for AT&T network. It does not have 2G (EDGE, GPRS) because AT&T is scheduled to shutdown EDGE and GPRS in 2017.
att
AT&T Unite (Model 770s) has 3G 1900 MHz 850 MHz. It has LTE Band 4 (1700 MHz) and Band 17 (700 MHz). Battery life is approximately 10 hours.
When there is a firmware update, AT&T Unite will download and install the update without asking you. Occasionally after a firmware update, the Unite (Model 770s) behaves badly. If that happens, (1) do a factory reset and/or (2) remove the battery for a few seconds, reinstall the battery and restart.
huawei
Huawei E5377s-32 works with AT&T. Battery life is 6 hours.
APN for AT&T SIM must be set to "broadband" for mobile hotspot (use Huawei HiLink App, add an APN profile called "ATT" and set APN to broadband).
An external antenna can be used with the AT&T Unite or Huawei E5377 to increase the signal strength, for stationary or mobile applications.

In Mobile Hotspot mode, your regular phone can be in roaming mode, don't answer incoming calls or you will incur large roaming and long distance charges.
*Some carriers may charge a fee in roaming mode even without making any calls, or a fee for receiving SMS while roaming, check with your home carrier for these fees before you let your phone in roaming mode, otherwise, switch your phone to airplane mode or remove your home carrier's SIM card from the phone.
You get your personal WiFi on the go, use Viber, Hangout, Skype, etc. to make voice calls to traditional landlines or mobile phones.

Phone mode:
Due to the high cost of AT&T voice+data plan, data-only plan (Mobile Hotspot plan) is more suitable for short term visits.

It is hard (but not impossible) to activate an AT&T SIM to data-only. The activation server tries hard to push you to the voice+data plans and blank out data-only plans.
If you must, it is quite possible to activate to data-only, but the activation process is geeky. Borrow the IMEI of a mobile hotspot (AT&T Mobile Hotspot or Huawei hotspot or AirCard hotspot) or any tablet with a SIM slot, go online to activate a new AT&T SIM, you will be given the chance to choose Mobile Hotspot plan; after activation, insert the activated data SIM in an unlocked phone (3G 1900 MHz and 850 MHz); the phone APN will default to "phone" and you won't get any Internet access until you manually change the phone's APN setting from "phone" to "broadband"

You can't receive or make voice calls with a Data SIM inside a phone or using Mobile Hotspot mode.
Use Viber, Hangout, Skype, etc. to make voice calls to traditional landlines or mobile phones.

AT&T SIM:
att-sim
AT&T Prepaid GoPhone SIM card can be purchased at AT&T stores in US, or eBay from reputable sellers.
AT&T Velocity (Model MG923) takes micro SIM. AT&T Unite (Model 770s) takes regular SIM.
SKU 73057 and SKU 40952 AT&T SIMs work, but other GoPhone LTE SIM should also work.

g
Buy a $25 AT&T GoPhone PIN Code from www.pinzoo.com using PayPal. A PIN will be available on your pinzoo.com account.

Activate your AT&T SIM:
Preparation
:
(1) You need a valid US address, e.g., address of your friend in US, or address of a hotel you stay in US.
(2) You need a valid IMEI number from some mobile hotspot, or from tablet with SIM slot. Sometimes you can find them accidentally in mobile hotspot instructional video (wireless support, device how-to center), during the section that shows you how to insert the mobile hotspot battery.
Use this website to check your IMEI to see if it is valid: http://imei-number.com/imei-validation-check/

Go to AT&T wireless activation web site to start activation, choose "Tablet or Mobile Hotspot", enter your 20-digit AT&T SIM card number, service ZIP code (it is just a 5-digit number of any valid US address), a 15-digit IMEI number of your mobile hotspot, some personal information including your email address, "home" phone number must be a 10-digit North American number (if you don't have a NA number, use your friend's or hotel's number), select a Rate Plan of $25 monthly 2GB Mobile Hotspot Plan.

Wait a minute or two until your SIM is activated, you will be assigned a 10-digit AT&T wireless number and a 4-digit password, write these numbers down, it is your account ID.
Press CONTINUE to the next page to add money. Refill using the GoPhone PIN Code you purchased from www.pinzoo.com to your account.

If you hit CANCEL and want to add money later (within the next 26 days), it is possible but is very problematic:
When you go to att.com/mygophone to login (using your 10-digit AT&T wireless number and last 4-digit of the wireless number as password) a new temporary password will be immediately sent to your "device" and you will need to use that temporary password to create your own 4-digit password. If you are in US or Canada (Rogers coverage area), a SMS will arrive at your AT&T Hotspot.

If necessary, go to this website to add money or check usage: http://att.com/mygophone or http://www.paygonline.com or call 800.901.9878 to talk to a representative for refill. A third party company http://prepaid.com/ accepts international credit cards and it can top up your AT&T account. Another good place to do refill is http://www.pinzoo.com where you can buy a Pin Code and then go to http://paygonline.com to add money to your account.

SIM expires (dies) 90 days after the end of the 30-day plan (roughly 120 days from day of activation), unless you keep refilling with $25 before it dies.

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 very large amount of data.
You can do media sync in a hotel with basically 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.


Simple Mobile

Coverage: Simple Mobile is a MVNO of T-Mobile, it has the same coverage as T-Mobile.

3G frequency band: same as T-Mobile.

Simple Mobile offers a variety of voice and data plans.


Prepaidzero

Coverage
3G frequency band
Voice or data-only
Mobile Hotspot mode
Phone mode
Prepaidzero SIM
SIM Expiration


Telecom Square

Coverage
3G frequency band
Voice or data-only
Mobile Hotspot mode
Phone mode
Prepaidzero SIM
SIM Expiration



© 2017 Nicholas Fong

nicholas.fong@gmail.com

Last updated: 2017-01-16

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