Mobile Hotspot for travel in the UK?
June 7, 2018 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Is a mobile hotspot a reasonable way to get reliable smartphone data access on a trip to the UK?

Last summer we went to England and I popped a UK SIM into my Moto G4, and it worked great. Until I got back to the US and put my US SIM into my phone, and it bricked the phone. I kind of jammed the US SIM into the phone improperly at first, so it could have been user error that damaged the SIM area so much that the phone just gave up on its raison d'etre.

We're going back to England this summer, and I live in fear of ruining my current phone (Moto G5) in the same fashion. I also think that this one doesn't play as well with the UK bands as my previous phone did? I checked T-Mobile's international website, and it says my device won't work with their plan that allows for international use.

I've been looking at renting a smartphone for our trip, but it costs so much that I might as well just buy a brand new phone with that money. I'd rather not do that. I looked at renting a MiFi hotspot, which is a bit more reasonable, but still over a hundred bucks. I see that T-Mobile sells a mobile 4G LTE hotspot for $72. Their website says it works in the UK. I worry that if I call to ask they'll say of course it works in the UK, but I might not be asking the right question.

If I buy a US mobile hotspot, will that make my US-based android phone able to use data for things like Google Maps as we drive and Pokemon Go while we're in the UK? Is there some kind of catch I'm not thinking of? On our last trip I failed to get a Mr. Mime on Pokemon Go, and I'm not saying we're going back because of that, but I am saying that if I'm in Europe I'm not leaving until I have collected a Mr. Mime for my Pokemon collection.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork to Technology (4 answers total)
I just went the sim route. I now have a Moto G5 and have changed sims to change US carriers and all was well. The sim route should work. Using a hotspot seems complicating. Unlimited local UK access should be a maximum of 30 for a month. I bought a 3 (Three is the company) UK sim from Ebay for a couple bucks then activated it online from the US before I went, worked a treat ;) .
posted by RoadScholar at 6:59 AM on June 7, 2018

I'm coming at this question from the point of view of someone who happily uses local SIM cards wherever I travel - FWIW I regularly switch SIM cards in my G5 Plus and I haven't had a problem yet. I can see a case for the hotspot if you wanted internet access for multiple devices. It would probably be more convenient than SIM cards for each device or tethering off a data-enabled device (and that feature is sometimes blocked, anyway.)

Since you are in the USA, is it possible that the phone you have is a Moto G5 Plus, rather than a G5? (Motorola only offers the G5 in Canada, so I had to import my G5 Plus.) Only asking because that may affect the bands that your phone uses. I use to check which local providers will be compatible with my phone.

I'm surprised T-Mobile's website says the phone won't work on their roaming plan in the UK; maybe we're not looking at the same list. I noticed that they only have limited Motorola models in the list. Maybe try calling them to confirm the status of the phone? I find see the Moto E listed as working, but the Moto G doesn't show up at all - it would surprise me if the E worked and the G didn't (the E is a low-end phone, the G is mid-range.)

If I were in your shoes I'd try to roam on T-Mobile in the UK (assuming it's a cost-effective option for you), and only bother with either the SIM or the hotspot route if that didn't work out. It won't take you more than 5 minutes to buy and set up a SIM from a convenience store, if that's what you choose to do. A WiFi hotspot will be a little harder to track down, but I'm sure you can track one down.

I was in Europe last year and the first and only Mr. Mime I saw on the radar was at Frankfurt Airport, while I was waiting for my flight back home. I'd already passed security and couldn't find it. I'm going back this summer and Mr. Mime is definitely on my list of to-do's.
posted by invokeuse at 8:36 AM on June 7, 2018

I think you were probably unlucky with your phone being bricked, swapping SIMs abroad is pretty common. But yes, setting up a mobile wifi hotspot will cause your phone to use it for all data in preference to your phone's connection.

If you want cheap but limited data, try giffgaff. They explicitly allow tethering/mobile hotspot data.

If you want all of the data, try 3. They also allow tethering, but note their unlimited deal has limits just for tethering.
posted by Eleven at 8:44 AM on June 7, 2018

Thanks, everyone! It is a G5 Plus, and I can't do roaming because I'm on a pre-paid plan (I would switch to a post-paid plan if their website said it would work with my phone, maybe their website is out of date). But this has given me ideas and possibly the foolhardy confidence to attempt to do the SIM card thing again and hope it doesn't ruin my phone when I come home!
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 5:12 PM on June 7, 2018

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