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How to use your Australian iPhone 4 in the US

By danwarne     Filed under: Apple, iPhone, USA, mobile broadband, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, SIM cards, iPhone 4, Micro-SIMs, Global roaming, prepaid mobile broadband, Sprint

So you've got your Telstra/Optus/Vodafone/3/Virgin Mobile iPhone 4 and you want to use it in the US without paying hundreds in global roaming fees? Should be easy, with a prepaid SIM, right? The answer is 'not exactly' -- but there are ways.

There are only two major 3G/GSM carriers in the US -- AT&T and T-Mobile (the others, like Verizon and Sprint, use CDMA/EV-DO, which is not compatible with the iPhone).

AT&T is the Apple-blessed seller of the iPhone, and is the only carrier that officially offers the reduced-size micro-SIM cards that are needed for the iPhone 4.

AT&T doesn't offer a prepaid plan which includes both voice and data usage. However, it does offer a range of "DataConnect Pass" plans which are designed for use with USB modems -- but can also be used in smartphones.

However, that doesn't mean AT&T makes it easy for travellers to get hooked up -- only its company-owned stores seem to know about the prepaid mobile broadband options, called "DataConnect Pass". A franchised kiosk in the Westfield San Francisco Center flat-out denied that AT&T offered prepaid mobile broadband.

You should be able to pick up an AT&T SIM card free of charge from an AT&T store, and then activate it with a DataConnect Pass by going to this web address (you'll need to do it at a WiFi hotspot somewhere -- AT&T won't do it for you in their store.)

You can only use your SIM with DataConnect Pass on the AT&T company-owned network. Although this sounds obvious, in the US, the country is so large that there are many small regional mobile networks that AT&T has domestic roaming agreements with. You can't roam on these networks with an DataConnect Pass -- AT&T's official line is that you need to be in a "dark or medium blue" area of their online coverage map.

Pricing for AT&T DataConnect Pass plans is $US30 for 300MB, expiring in 7 days, or $US50 for 1GB, expiring in 30 days. We would avoid the $US15 for 100MB "daypass" -- it's poor value compared to the $US30 plan, unless you're only going to be in the US literally for one day.

The DataConnect Pass plans also give you unlimited access to AT&T WiFi hotspots, which may be handy, as hotspots can be faster than AT&T's 3G network -- it has attracted a lot of negative commentary for slow data speeds, blamed on the number of iPhone users on the network.

The main catch with AT&T is that they say you can only use their SIM cards with devices that are approved for use on the AT&T network, and they do require your phone or modem's IMEI serial number at the time you activate your SIM card online. A list of approved devices is here. We haven't tested whether a non-approved device would be accepted in the online sign-up -- if you have, please let us know in the comments below.

If you're planning a trip to the US and want to see if your phone will work with a DataConnect Pass, you can buy one on eBay for less than $20 delivered to Australia (just search for AT&T SIM or AT&T Micro SIM), and then begin the signup process on AT&T's website, entering your new AT&T SIM card ICCID and your existing phone or modem's IMEI number. If either are not accepted, the website will tell you -- and you won't have actually had to spend any money (except for the SIM card on eBay).

If you need help while you're there, AT&T's DataConnect Pass tech support line is on +1 888 334 3781 -- just try not to mention to them that you're using a DataConnect Pass with an iPhone

The other option is the T-Mobile network. T-Mobile runs a 3G network, and they do offer prepaid mobile broadband. However, they use a very unusual radio frequency which Australian smartphones (including the iPhone 3G) don't support -- 1700MHz. You can still use their network with an iPhone, though -- it will just run in 2G/EDGE mode, which provides speeds of up to 200Kbit/s in our testing in San Francisco.

The next challenge with T-Mobile is that while they will happily give you a SIM card that will technically work in an iPhone 4 (in 2G EDGE mode only), it won't physically fit, because it'll be a full-size SIM, not a Micro-SIM.

You can get around this by cutting your T-Mobile SIM card down to size in order to use it in your iPhone 4 if you're game, or just buy a $5 MicroSIM cutter from Amazon.com to be delivered to your hotel.

If you decide to go with T-Mobile, don't just visit the shop and sign up for a "prepaid" plan straight away. There's a much better option than prepaid plans that we discovered on a recent trip to the US -- "T-Mobile FlexPay" which allows you to get contract plans without a contract, and pay in advance each month. You don't have to have a credit check and if you don't pay your bill, the service just switches off. On a practical level, it's exactly the same as prepaid, but you get better plans that even offer unlimited internet access. The $US79.99 plan also includes unlimited calling within the USA, which is handy if you do use the SIM card in your iPhone 4.

Also see: Best mobile broadband for Australians visiting the USA (expands on this article).

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About danwarne

Dan is a tech enthusiast who frequently qualifies for enhanced airport security screening due to the number of cords and gadgets stuffed into his cabin bag.

 

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1 on 7/12/10 by Andy S

Or try www.vroam.com for half-price roaming.

1 on 8/12/10 by danwarne

Vroam rates are no good in the USA -- like most travel SIM cards. $28 per MB for data roaming -- that's MORE expensive than using an Australian carrier's casual data roaming rates, and nearly TEN times as expensive as using an Australian carrier's prepaid data roaming packs (for example Telstra offers 60MB for $180 -- still ludicrously expensive, but that would cost $1,680 on Vroam!) Even the voice roaming rates on Vroam aren't much better than standard global roaming rates -- $1.95/min to call back to Australia or make a local call in the US.

2 on 8/12/10 by Andy S

Optus $3.70 per minute (don't forget the flagfall), Telstra $3.35 per minute back to Australia. Add around 25-20% more for voicemail tromboning (see here and here and here)

vRoam $1.95 per minute. 

80% of your calls will be back to Oz...

1 on 8/12/10 by danwarne

Mmm.. yeah, but I think the majority of business travellers are now looking for ways to keep smartphones connected to the net while overseas -- which is what I was addressing in this article. If you have data you can make Skype calls and avoid international calling rates entirely :-)

1 on 8/12/10 by Andy S

Yes, but...

Most business travellers also need to be contactable on their Australian number. If you use a Skype ID exclusively for calls, then fine, but otherwise options are (very) limited.

There's always a cheaper way, but the hassle increases.

1 on 8/12/10 by danwarne

True, true... though a global SIM doesn't help with the "being contactable on your own number" issue any more than using Skype on 3G does...

1 on 8/12/10 by Andy S

The vRoam one does...

1 on 8/12/10 by danwarne

How's that? Do you forward your Australian SIM card to a Vroam number or something...?

1 on 8/12/10 by Andy S

Local (Oz) forwarding, then vRoam carriage overseas.

2 on 11/12/10 by jokiin

Better than just Skype, use a true VoIP provider and do it cheaper, display your regular mobile number as CID and have dirt cheap redirect to an overseas number, very cost effective and very transparent to your callers, I think vRoam, TravelSIM, Truphone etc have a place with people that are technically challenged and offer solutions that are better value than what's offered by the carriers but they are still way too expensive for my liking

1 on 12/12/10 by Andy S

Yes... but spoofing Caller-ID? Most VoIP providers don't allow it, in my experience only the dodgy ones do (potential for abuse), and most users just want to not be bothered changing settings etc.

1 on 14/12/10 by jokiin

plenty of good quality providers offer spoofing the CID as long as it is confirmed you own the number, not settings to constantly change, very much set and forget and well worth it if you're a regular traveler, if you're a one off traveler perhaps some of those other solutions are more convenient even if not actually cheap

2 on 5/1/11 by linc

vroam - 140 countries ; TravelSIM 190 countries

vroam cost to rec calls usa : 30 c per min TravelSIM - FREE

vroam call local & Au $1.95 p.m ($AU)  TravelSIM .45c p.m. ($US)

vroam call to mob from US $2.25 ($AU)  TravelSIM .45c p.m. ($US)

Other vroam costs: simcard rental $1.50 per day, $100 deposit and lost sim fee $100.   TravelSIM no such thing as simcard rental fee so FREE, and no such thing as a deposit and $20 lost sim fee

1 on 5/1/11 by danwarne

But data rates suck for both providers :)

1 on 6/1/11 by jokiin

any of those travel SIM's are much more expensive than a local SIM, some call forwarding and VoIP/Skype, it seems every story here somehow turns into an ad for vroam, if it's that great maybe they should pony up the cash and advertise on the site ;-)

2 on 5/1/11 by Andy S

TravelSIM? Prepaid. vRoam? Postpaid. Big difference.

TravelSIM? Estonian number, so huge cost to call it. That's actually how they make their money. Plus of course credit wastage from unused credit... vRoam? Your normal Australian number.

Oh, and watch out for scams: http://www.ausbt.com.au/news/view/56/travelsim-customers-scammed

1 on 14/1/11 by linc

Yep TravelSIM prepaid big difference - No surprises!!!!!

TravelSIM - anyone can call a TravelSIM from a 1800 number in Aust for free from a landline - Free call.   Free SMS to any TravelSIM too. Customers can control top-up and it is fully transferrable to anyone. Oh and btw you can divert any number to a TravelSIM.

This particular website said 2 days ago and I quote " WE CANT RECOMMEND VROAM BASED ON PRICE, EVERY COUNTRY WE LOOKED AT HAD CHEAPER OPTIONS WITH OTHER PROVIDERS......."  Vroam (M.D. author) are charging a premium .

The link re scams:  A phishing email is possible from any source.   Ask Vodafone.

3 on 12/2/11 by tequilatamm

Thanks for the great article!

I grew up in the US and have lived in Australia for the past 16 years.

I went back for a visit last year and wanted to be able to use my iPhone 3GS while there.

Your instructions for that are spot on.  I bought the cheapie GoPhone pack at Wal-mart, and made the mistake of letting the cashier activate the phone for me.  When AT&T activates it for you, it automatically locks it to the cheap crappy phone in the pack, so yes, it is important not to let them activate it for you.

If you do, however, make this mistake, it's as simple as going to an AT&T store with your receipt and telling them your phone was stolen, and you need them to cut a new sim card for you, which they will do on the spot for free.  Do not bring a phone with you and let them activate it for you!  Return directly to somewhere with an internet connection and go online to activate the card yourself!

I didn't find I needed to use the crappy GoPhone IEMI.  I merely needed to have the AT&T profile installed on my iPhone prior to inserting the SIM card and that did the trick.

I paid, as you said:

$29.99 for a crappy Nokia phone + SIM (There is a $15 pack, but beware it is not 3G compatible)

$19.99 for a 100Mb data feature package, good for 30 days.

Then, you have to charge up your phone with phone and voice credits.

Since I travel to the US frequently, and wanted to hang on to the Prepaid phone number permanently if possible, when I charged up the phone, I spent $100 which gives you 365 before the prepaid plan expires.

Basically, when I go back again this year, I will put another $100 on the phone, so I can keep it current for another 365 days and keep the same number.  

This year, I'll be cutting down my SIM before I go, so it will fit in my iPhone 4.  If for some reason that doesn't work, I'll have my old, iPhone 3GS with me, and get them to code me a new SIM again, if there's any problem.

You can also charge it up at smaller rates, but they expire at sooner intervals, 30, 60 or 90 days.

I have heard a lot of people complain about the messages this plan throws up at you whenever you finish a voice or text.  It messages you to tell you how much credit you have left.  This feature can easily be turned off by going to www.PayGoOnline.com and changing the "end of call notification" setting to "no".

4 on 8/4/11 by jaymcc

Hi

Thanks for the article - excellent advice.  I've just ordered an AT&T micro sim on ebay for $4.00 - will see how I go.

Thanks

Jay

1 on 8/4/11 by danwarne

Glad we could help!! Let us know how you go with it Jay -- the on-the-ground reports from readers are just as valuable as the articles we write!

1 on 27/4/11 by jaymcc

Hi

I know this isn't tech support but looking for options.  I ordered my SIM card and have received it now.  However I can't seem to get through the payment process on their website - I'm guessing because I have an Australian credit card.  Any smart ideas from anyone on how to do this?

Thanks

J

1 on 27/4/11 by danwarne

You'll probably have to use a prepaid visa cardvbought in the US Jay. Alternatively I've heard that American Express cards validate with US merchants even if the cardholder is Australian-based. Not sure if this is for all Amex cards though.

5 on 17/4/11 by fn1107

Has anyone really tested the DataConnect Pass with the iPhone? In der FAQ they say, they don't support smartphones (http://www.wireless.att.com/answer-center/main.jsp?t=solutionTab&ft=browseTab&ps=solutionPanels&locale=en_US&_dyncharset=UTF-8&solutionId=KB113873&isSrch=Yes)  Does this mean, it doesn't technically work in smartphones at all or is it just, that voice services are not supported?

I'm planning a trip to the US and have already purchased an AT&T sim card, but I'm still a bit sceptical about spending $50 with the risk, that it will not work.

As an alternative there is also the GoPhone Pay As You Go plan which offers 100 MB for $19,99 but also supports voice service. I don't need voice service so I would prefer the DataConnect Pass, which gives you more value for money.

6 on 31/5/11 by badlesmere

Got back from the states two days ago, tried at and t and they were no help, went to T Mobile linked store on broadway and asked them how to use my iphone 4 they got me on to simple which was pricey ($60 for the month and $20 for the sim) they cut it and registered it immediately. was done in 5 mins, walked out of the store with free unlimited national calls and unlimited interet usage (500mb used in three weeks) so was well worth it... for me anyway. coverage was good all through NY, CT MA and okay in VT . they also have other options available.

1 on 31/5/11 by badlesmere

should mention the phone company is called SIMPLE ...and for a reason. Just google them.

1 on 31/5/11 by danwarne

Wow! Good find, thanks badlesmere!! I'll rewrite the article based around that..!

 

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