iPhone in Mexico

Movistar Mexico in 2012 continues to be an excellent value when traveling in Mexico with an iPhone. You will need an older model jailbroken/unlocked iphone (3G, 3GS, 4) or an unlocked iPhone 4S including Verizon’s 4S iPhone. An unlocked Verizon 4S iphone comes with a Verizon SIM card which allows it to work in GSM countries. Most Verizon employees I have talked to are unclear about the iPhone 4S’s GSM capabilities. I think Verizon would prefer you use their included SIM cards internationally, but don’t, the international roaming rates are very expensive; when your Verizon iphone detects that you have arrived in Mexico, you will receive a text message from Verizon with their Mexico roaming rates: Global Data is $5.12/MB, texts are 50 cents each, and voice calls are $1 per minute. Your calls with a Movistar installed SIM are two cents a minute.

Getting a Movistar SIM card is a quick and fairly simple process but you must find a Movistar office that sells their SIM cards. All Movistar stores sell extra minutes but many of the smaller kiosks do not have SIM cards in stock. Movistar Mexico does not sell any GSM phones with the so-called micro SIM cards, though this probably will change, as most carriers are now selling the punch-out SIMs, which allows you to punch-out either the traditional or micro-sized SIM shape at purchase. This means you need to trim the traditional SIM down to the micro size. This takes some care, but not surgical skills. First time you attempt this procedure, under-trim the card initially, and if necessary, shave the card more until it just fits into its SIM slot.

A prepaid Movistar SIM card costs $12 or 170 pesos and your new account will also be credited 100 minutes. Have the Movistar sales agent activate your new SIM card with the agent’s personal phone in the store. If you need to check your Movistar balance dial *12536, you will receive a text message with your current balance. You can use cellular data with a prepaid account on Movistar’s EDGE network which is fine for email downloading, but limit your cellular data roaming. If you use WIFI for most of your heavier data needs, you can easily continue to use your iPhone in Mexico for a reasonable price.

Dial *12536 and you will receive a text message with your current balance
Dial *12536 and you will receive a text message with your current balance

Verizon Hotspot

Just finished a 10 day trial with Verizon using their MIFI Hotspot device (Novatel MIFI 451 for $270.00). This wireless router is supposed to give you a WIFI hotspot wherever you are and can be shared with up to 5 other WIFI enabled devices. The product sounded perfect for mobile users of the Internet. Verizon boasts 4-12Mbps download speeds, in the words of my Verizon sales rep; “this is a replacement technology for Comcast”. My Comcast cable modem can score 12+Mbps with Speakeasy speed tests, but Verizon’s Hotspot technology never tested higher than 1.5Mbps with over 30 speed test on Verizon’s 4G wireless network. Verizon has just introduced their 4G LTE network in Boulder, Colorado and there seems be network tweaking issues, or their 4G network is highly over-rated. From my house, I consistently received 4 bars (the maximum number of bars) of 4G signal strength on the Novatel MIFI router I tested. At times, web images visually-poured into their pages just like back in the dial-up days of the Internet.

The Hotspot’s 4G speed was disappointing, and not nearly fast enough for the type of web work I do. Outside of the metro area, the device reverts to Verizon’s 3G network which means even slower data downloads. At $50 per month for 5GB of data, I was hoping I could drop my cable modem from Comcast ($58 per month) and work from a wireless hotspot since I am currently a regular commuter.

Verizon’s customer service was very good. They promptly answered all my emails and requested their network engineers try to investigate my hotspot performance problems. When it came time to return my hardware, they gave me a full refund including waving their return fee.

For now, I am back to looking for another wireless network solution.

4G Wireless reaches Boulder

As of mid July, 4G wireless connectivity has just started to reached Boulder. TMobile and Verizon have 4G coverage now with a MIFI hotspot device, AT&T and Sprint’s 4G networks have not been completed in Boulder yet. The speed tests, in the table to the right, show that wireless carriers have a fair amount of tweaking to do to reach their goals of downloads “up to 12Mbps”. At this point, 4G LTE technology looks very over-hyped compared to Comcast’s cable results.

New iPhone Plans

I recently had to find an individual iPhone plan for the U.S. I didn’t need many monthly voice minutes, so the plans I mention basically represent the cheapest iPhone plans by carrier. These plans are for people who already own their iPhones and don’t want a phone contract or a subsidized iPhone. AT&T is now about $75/month*, Verizon $80/month**, and TMobile is $60/month*** (Feb 2011). The TMobile 500 minute plan dropped approx. $20 since last year. All the prices above do not include taxes and career’s standard “phantom fees”. It is possible to have slightly cheaper plans with all these carriers, but this would require signing up for metered text and data options, which come with heavy penalties for over usage, so beware.

*AT&T/450 minutes/1000 Texts/2GB Data/unlimited AT&T hotspots
**Verizon/450 minutes/500 Texts/unlimited Data
***TMobile/500 minutes/unlimited Texts/unlimited Data (EDGE only)