Is it really possible that the Moto G 3rd gen doesn't work on Spark NZ?
January 7, 2016 1:55 PM   Subscribe

My mother has never had a smart phone before, and wanted to get one, but she's a pensioner who finds it hard to cover her daily needs so can't afford to spend more than the bare minimum necessary. I steered her towards the Moto G 3rd gen as one of the best options in the low-cost range, and helped her buy it online so she didn't have to pay the $400+ actual shops here charge for it. Now that it has arrived, Spark NZ is apparently telling her it is completely incompatible with their network - that she can't even make phone calls or send SMSes on it. I have never heard of that before and can't find any reference to it in NZ forums. Is it really likely?

She doesn't want to use data on it at all - doesn't want to get a data plan. Just wants to send texts, make calls, and check her email when at home with wifi. So I didn't pay too much attention to whether it was LTE compatible or anything, and that shouldn't matter. But it never occurred to me it might not be able to make calls.

This is what happened: the phone arrived. She called me up to say her previous SIM card didn't fit in the slot. So I sent her instructions on how to cut it down to a micro sim, and also suggested she take it into a Spark shop (the network her old SIM was on, and that she wants to stay with no matter what) for help if scared to cut it. She took it in there and they told her you should never buy phones from overseas because they rarely work in NZ and that it was not possible to cut a SIM card down to size. I know both of those things are untrue, which makes me sceptical of later events.

Anyway, they sold her a new SIM card (which made her sad because all her contacts were on the old one). She got home, put that in, and waited 24 hours and it still doesn't work. So she called the helpdesk and they told her that the phone is fundamentally incompatible with Spark's SIM cards and she needs to return it and (here's the catch) - she should buy a locked phone on a 24 month plan from them.

She is going to do this and now does not trust anything I say about phones, so my question is only really whether there is any truth in what they say about the incompatibility, so that I know if I should complain to Expansys for selling a phone marked as "for NZ" when it doesn't work with the main carrier here. And so I know how bad I should feel about the whole thing. (Right now I feel terrible: she CRIED down the phone about how much trouble I had caused her by trying to get her to cheap out on the purchase.)
posted by lollusc to Technology (14 answers total)
(By the way, I do understand that you can get this sort of total incompatibility between American phones and the rest of the world. But I think from googling that this model is the European one. (It certainly came with a French manual, which also made Mum cry.))
posted by lollusc at 2:03 PM on January 7, 2016

Apparently they use LTE band 28, which is not so widely supported on North American or European phones, but more common in phones targeted for an Asian market. She might get coverage in some places, because they also seem to use a few other LTE bands, but who knows.

Normally it would fall back on 3G, but it looks like Spark Mobile (formerly XT Mobile) never had a 3G network - they before LTE, they had a CDMA network.

Other mobile vendors in NZ do have 3G networks, so that phone would probably work with Vodaphone, though mostly without LTE.
posted by aubilenon at 2:18 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

GSMArena lists the radio bands for the XT1541 (the one you linked to) as mostly coincidental with the bands listed in the Spark NZ wiki page so it should work w/ reduced 4G reception. The fact that somebody who wants money from her told her it wouldn't work, but wouldn't actually let her try it should be a good indicator that they didn't care about the truth.
Coincidentally, I returned The US model of this phone because I wanted better 4G reception (and got it from a Nexus). GSMArena and PhoneArena are good resources for determining network compatibility before ordering, but probably only correct 99% of the time.

Also, even if she cuts down her sim card, there are cheap plastic SIM adapters to fill out the space and put it back into a bigger SIM slot. Phone makers tell you not to use these because they might get stuck, but they do exist.
posted by mattamatic at 2:24 PM on January 7, 2016

Just to clarify, I meant "wouldn't let her try with the old SIM".
posted by mattamatic at 2:32 PM on January 7, 2016

Aubilenon, isn't 4G / 3G completely irrelevant if she isn't planning to use data, anyway? When you say they never had a 3G network, does that mean if she can't get 4G, she can't even make phone calls?
posted by lollusc at 2:33 PM on January 7, 2016

Looking at the links mattamatic provided, the phone supports two of the three LTE bands that Spark NZ uses (LTE Band 3 and 7) but specifically not the UMTS/HSPA band that they use (850MHz), though they have a second band (2100MHz) that is available in "major urban areas" (which means you probably can't count on it being available) according to the wiki. The phone does support plain 2G GSM over the right band, but according to the wiki again they never built out a bare 2G GSM network, so you're kinda out of luck there. Your voice calls are pretty well guaranteed to go over the 2G or 3G networks and it doesn't appear that the phone in question has radios that will work with that carrier to do that. So, you may actually in fact have a phone that won't work on their network.

Since she has a new SIM, it would be worth popping it in to see if it works. If you pop the SIM card in, if it in fact does work with the network (there is a version of that phone that will work, but it's got a different model number) it will at least attach itself to a tower and get a signal that would be identified as Spark NZ. I'd consider that fairly unlikely but it's worth a shot - there's no harm in trying. If it does get a Spark NZ signal then you may need to call or go to a store to get them to activate it (I couldn't find any non-iPhone help quickly on their site about this) as that process varies from carrier to carrier. It should be pretty straightforward if you get to that point, though. If in the (more likely) scenario that it doesn't, you at least have a SIM card that will likely work in another phone.
posted by mrg at 3:08 PM on January 7, 2016

They did activate the SIM and put it in for her, and it didn't work. They told her to wait 24 hours and see if it started working, but apparently it still doesn't. She is not willing to change networks as she has heard that other networks don't have good coverage outside of major urban centres. So the phone will definitely have to be returned.

It sounds like I didn't know as much about phones as I thought I did and she is right to be angry with me. I guess I'd better offer to pay the shipping costs to return her phone to Expansys. Sigh. Lesson learned.
posted by lollusc at 3:18 PM on January 7, 2016

Aubilenon, isn't 4G / 3G completely irrelevant if she isn't planning to use data, anyway? When you say they never had a 3G network, does that mean if she can't get 4G, she can't even make phone calls?

To be strictly accurate, I should also have said they also don't have a basic GSM (1g) or Edge (2g) network. CDMA filled all those roles, and is not compatible. It's similar to the situation with Sprint or Verizon in the US - they have LTE, but they don't have and never had GSM.
posted by aubilenon at 3:18 PM on January 7, 2016

Fwiw you made a good choice otherwise, I have the moto g 2nd gen on spark and its a great phone
posted by Sebmojo at 5:26 PM on January 7, 2016

She is not willing to change networks as she has heard that other networks don't have good coverage outside of major urban centres.

I'm no expert but that sounds odd to me. Certainly Vodafone claims 98% coverage (though that's "where 98% of people live" not "98% of the physical country") and 2Degrees uses Vodafone's network where it doesn't have towers.

You'd probably get some really good answers on
posted by Pink Frost at 5:50 PM on January 7, 2016

if I should complain to Expansys for selling a phone marked as "for NZ" when it doesn't work with the main carrier here

Looks like the position in NZ is similar to that applying to Australia, where the main carrier (Telstra) uses 850MHz outside major metro and 2100MHz inside, and everybody else is on 900MHz/2100MHz.

So yes, you do need to know which bands the carrier you intend to use will be on, and choose a phone that suits. A few phones cover all the bands (this is more common in phones that let you install two SIMs) but most don't; instead, they make available model variants identical in all respects apart from choice of supported bands.

I firmly believe that the main reason things work this way is to encourage as many people as possible to throw up their hands and declare the whole thing too complicated to deal with, so that they end up buying locked phones at extortionate prices from carriers who only offer them on long, long service contracts.
posted by flabdablet at 6:37 PM on January 7, 2016

This Sony Xperia dual-SIM phone is fairly decent and should work anywhere in NZ or Australia.
posted by flabdablet at 6:53 PM on January 7, 2016

Thanks but mum is not going to take my advice on phones now (it took a bit of convincing in the first place to get her to risk purchasing online) so she'll just get whatever the spark people tell her to.
posted by lollusc at 6:58 PM on January 7, 2016

...and like it :-(

Oh well. You can but try.
posted by flabdablet at 7:11 PM on January 7, 2016

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