$30,000 per gig? Really?
June 4, 2009 4:58 PM   Subscribe

iPhone user from Canada roaming in Big Apple.... how?

I have a friend visiting NYC from Canada with her iPhone. Her carrier is "Rogers" (?) and she is afraid to use it at all because of possible very high data charges. I understand this but it seems silly to waste so many features when traveling (like Maps) that are especially valuable when traveling.... more than when at home, right?

She's here for two months and from the sound of the data roaming fees -- $30 (sic) per megabyte (sic) -- she's right: it's effectively unusable.

I could lend her my ATT SIM card but I use my phone too much to be without it that long. I showed her how to preload-cache maps, and made her some static ones to help, but man... GPS would sure be nice.

What are her options to avoid huge fees? Is there a two month one-time purchase possible, either from her Canadian carrier or from AT&T or Verizon down here?

I can jailbreak it for her if necessary (never done that but I can figure it out) as long as its reversible.
posted by rokusan to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Rogers is expensive, but not that expensive. The rate is $10/month plus $1/MB...see this link. There are voice roaming plans too -- also not great but not fatal either.

AT&T's prepaid GoPhones are much better value, but I'm not sure if you can take out the SIM card and stick it into the iPhone. And I'm not sure if Rogers will unlock iPhones (they do unlock other phones for only a $35 fee).
posted by randomstriker at 5:30 PM on June 4, 2009

Best answer: She can put her phone in airplane mode and use Wifi. While not as plentiful as the used to be, there are random open networks out there, and lots of cafes and some city parks have Wifi. I used this method successfully in Europe.
posted by kimdog at 7:11 PM on June 4, 2009

Uh - no - double-check with Rogers first and ensure that a decent roaming data plan is active BEFORE any data communications is enabled, otherwise she will end up with a nasty bill.

I am on a team that travels regularly to/from the U.S./Canada for work and occasionally we will get a newbie who is hit for a bill of $500-700 for only a few DAYS of roaming data. (Particularly as our phones are generally set to autosynchronize email very frequently via push/pull)

Roaming voice is reasonable... Unless you have a specific international plan for roaming data, get ready for bankruptcy...

That link provided by randomstriker is not resolving properly. There have been several "horror" stories regarding Rogers, iPhones and international roaming - you can search them up yourself...
posted by jkaczor at 7:24 PM on June 4, 2009

Best answer: Some numbers which might be helpful to know: I was in New York for four days last month with a Canadian iPhone. I turned off all push notifications. I only turned data roaming on when I needed to use the GPS+Maps: this was maybe for a minute or two at a time, about 5-6 times per day, and that data roaming ended up costing me $30.

Also, unsecured WiFi was surprisingly hard to find. The "free wifi for iPhones" thing that Starbucks has requires your AT&T account number, so that's a no-go.

Rogers does seem to offer a U.S. Data Roaming plan: $10/month cuts the per-megabyte cost down to $1.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 7:33 PM on June 4, 2009

You can't give your your AT&T sim. The phone is locked. Lovely yes?
Just for maps, she could use this: http://atlchris.com/701/xroads-g-map-gps-navigation-for-the-iphone-finally/
I tend to travel, and nothing makes me froth at the mouth more than locked cell phones, so you can't switch out the SIM. The iPhone being a egregious example, since even if you have bought the phone, finished your contract, you still can't get it unlocked! (In N. America anyway, here in Australia you can, though the iphone itself is not cheap, and don't get me started on data/voice plans here.)
posted by defcom1 at 8:33 PM on June 4, 2009

Best answer: I am a Canadian iPhone user who visits NYC pretty frequently. Sadly, I've never found a usable short-term plan with good data in the US. (If anyone in this thread can recmmend one, I'll be delighted and a bit surprised). If such a plan does exist, your friend will need to both jailbreak her phone (allowing general 3rd party apps on the phone) and unlock it (installing a specific 3rd party app/hack that allows it to work on a different carrier).

Kimdog writes:
> She can put her phone in airplane mode and use Wifi.

I think wifi does not actually work in airplane mode. But she can turn off data roaming, to the same effect as Kimdog describes. (I think it's actually off by default).

> While not as plentiful as the used to be, there are random open networks out there, and
> lots of cafes and some city parks have Wifi.

There are lots. And some good apps for finding them. Check WifiTrack for scanning for open networks. And jiwire "free wifi" for a list of free wifi hotspots.

For mapping apps, spefically: Note that GPS info is *not* data. So applications can, for free, find out your longitude and lattitude. They just can't look up anything based on that information. I use FidesReef "new york city" map app, which is an online map of the whole city that can GPS you to where you are. Not as good as the native iPhone map, but it works offline. iTrans NYC is a pretty good subway map that (mostly) works offline. Same for the Hopstop app.

And: Your friend should check her voice rates, too. On my Fido plan (a company owned by Rogers), I end up paying around $3/minute (combining "roaming" and "long distance" fees) when I use my iPhone in the US.

My own solution, far from perfect, after a fair amount of research, boils down to this:

- For phone calls: Buy a cheap AT&T go-Phone. Put $100 of time on it. Calls to the US are cheap, and calls to Canada are not too bad.

- For Mapping: Get good iPhone apps that use GPS but don't require data access.

- For general Data: Try and find as much free wifi as you can. (Maybe supplemented, as an emeregerncy measure, by the Rogers $1/MB rate, which is still crazy expensive for many applications)

- Possible hack: If you have an AT&T iphone, and your friend has a Rogers iPhone, it seems likely that with a mix of ingenuity and dishonesty, your friend can take advantage of the deal that provides free wifi at Starbucks for iPhone AT&T customers. I could be wrong. I leave it to you to work out the details.

Mostly: This all sucks - I also wish I could use my iPhone fully when traveling in the US: I need those features more when traveling. Maybe others willl have better solutions than I have here.

(I also wish I didn't have to pay $6 in service charges every time I take money out of a US ATM....)
posted by ManInSuit at 9:18 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh and:

Some good sites to look at are :

- http://www.howardforums.com/forumdisplay.php?f=431 (Howardforums site for iPhone on Rogers)
- http://www.iphoneincanada.ca/ (iphone Canada Blog)
posted by ManInSuit at 9:22 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Regarding the starbucks wifi stuff - I was in SF a month ago and while it took me ages to figure it out, you *can* use their wifi - you need to provide your starbucks username and password to AT&T for it to work.
posted by lowlife at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Fido, a Rogers subsidiary, has an international data plan that comes down to a buck a megabyte plus a monthly minimum of I think about $18. Your friend should call and ask Rogers what her add-on options are for travel.
posted by holycola at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2009

DrJohnEvans and holycola's information about the data roaming plan is useful. But do keep in mind, depending on how you use your phone, $1/MB can add up fast. In terms of the OP's subject line, that's still $1000 per gig. It's not at all hard to rack up 500 MB in a month...For most folks, I'd suggest that even the "discount" data roaming rate would be something to use very judiciously.
posted by ManInSuit at 10:46 AM on June 5, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, all. It is indeed $30/Mb when roaming, as my original subject says, but that's only because she doesn't have the add-on "cheap" international roaming plan, which indeed reduces it to "only" $1/Mb.

(Looking at the "Usage" tab in my own iPhone, though, that'd be $487.00 of data I used last month, but that's better than $12,000. God, phone companies are criminal.)

Based on the answers here, I've encouraged her to get the $10 add-on for two months and then cancel it when she leaves... and also shown her how to use less by not collecting mail automatically, and appreciated MIS's tip about GPS use not counting: that didn't even occur to me, but of course it's not internet data. I'll check out the NYC city map apps that use GPS instead of Google Maps, so there's no data transfer.

Lowlife, can you explain how she might use the Starbucks access points? I can use them with my own iPhone, but I'm entering my (AT&T, USA) number to do it. She doesn't have an AT&T number.

(PS to some: swapping our SIM cards (hers Rogers, mine AT&T) does work, for what that's worth. Our numbers change but the phones work as usual, including data. I'm a bit surprised, but there you go.)
posted by rokusan at 12:25 AM on June 6, 2009

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