If you're travelling to the USA soon, there's a great value prepaid SIM card that Australian Business Traveller reader Josh Murphy has made us aware of.
For an outlay of US$80 (US$20 for the SIM, and US$60 for the 30 day plan), you can buy a SIMple Mobile SIM card, including:
- unlimited phone calls within the USA for 30 days
- unlimited text messages to US or international mobiles for 30 days
- unlimited data/internet usage for 30 days
- unlimited usage of 1800FREE411 directory assistance for 30 days
That outlay of US$80 is equivalent to the cost of just four megabytes of usage on Optus' expensive data roaming.
To put that in perspective, you could load the Sydney Morning Herald homepage two or three times, and you'd have run up $80 on Optus data roaming! Clearly, using this prepaid SIM is a much more cost-effective way to stay connected while in the US.
SIMple Mobile is a "virtual mobile network", which means it resells services from the T-Mobile mobile network -- but at much cheaper rates.
It also has fantastic rates for calling back to Australia -- just 2.5c per minute to call Australia, or 16c per minute to call Australian mobiles -- cheaper than Skype!
The downside is you have to dial in to a calling card service first rather than directly dialling the number on your mobile -- but the cost of the calls is still handled through the SIMple Mobile account.
The $60 plan includes $1 of value for international calling, and to get more, you just have to buy a $10 international recharge. However, it's worth pointing out that $1 is actually enough for 40 minutes of talk-time back to Australia.
Using the SIMple Mobile card for internet
SIMple Mobile's network uses an unusual radio frequency for 3G -- 1700MHz -- which Australian phones and modems can't connect to in full-speed 3G mode. You can still use any Australian phone, though; it will just connect in 2G mode rather than 3G, with slower internet speeds.
Australian Business Traveller has tested this first-hand in the USA and found internet speed adequate for email, web browsing and looking up maps on an iPhone, as T-Mobile's 2G network uses "EDGE" technology, which is faster than most Australian 2G networks.
Using a SIMple Mobile SIM card with a laptop modem
To make the best use of the 3G network with a SIMple Mobile SIM card and your laptop, you'll need a 3G modem that supports the 1700MHz "AWS" radio frequency.
The ideal 3G laptop modem that supports this is the Option iCon 452 (pictured right), which is both Mac and Windows compatible.
It can also be purchased for $79 in Australia through Tru, by calling the Tru for Business Team on 1800 463 204. (Tru's primary business is in selling global roaming SIM cards, so if you ring up, you'll need to be clear that you only want to buy the modem, not a SIM card.)
The iCon 452 will work on almost all mobile networks worldwide and can also be used back in Australia on Telstra Next G, and with city (but not regional) coverage on Optus, Vodafone and 3.
You can download connection software for your using this modem with your laptop at Option's website.
Note, SIMple Mobile does not officially allow the use of their SIM cards with 3G modems, or with phones that tether to a laptop. However, it should work, provided you set the 3G modem's connection software to use the Access Point Name (APN) "Simple" (no username or password required).
Using the iPhone with a SIMple Mobile SIM card
The SIMple Mobile SIM card will work fine in an iPhone 1, 3G or 3GS -- though, as above, the phone will only connect in 2G/EDGE mode, not 3G mode.
To use it in an iPhone 4, you'll need to have it cut down to micro-SIM size. We strongly recommend taking a $5 iPhone SIM cutter with you to the USA to make this easy. See our Top 5 tips for travelling with an iPhone for step-by-step instructions and photos.
However, Josh Murphy -- who tipped us off about these SIM cards -- reports that a SIMple Mobile dealer was happy to do it for him with its SIM cutter.
You will also need to change some of your iPhone's settings in order for it to be able to access the internet on the SIMple Mobile network:
- Connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot (such as one in a hotel lobby)
- In your iPhone's web browser, go to http://unlockit.co.nz.
- Select "continue"
- Select "custom APN"
- In the "carrier" field, select "US - Simple"
- Select "Create Profile"
- Select "install"
- Select "install now"
- Enter your iPhone's PIN code (the one you use to unlock the iPhone home screen normally) if you have one
- The SIMple Mobile internet should now work.
Note: when you return to Australia, you will need to remove the SIMple profile, by going to Settings > General > Profiles > APN Carrier Settings > Remove, and then plugging your iPhone into your computer and syncing your phone with iTunes.
Using other phones with the SIMple Mobile SIM card
You can also get step-by-step instructions for other phones, including Android, Windows Phone 7 and Nokia handsets here.
SIMple mobile also has a web page with instructions for BlackBerry, LG, Samsung, HTC and Motorola phones.
Where to buy a SIMple Mobile SIM card
SIMple Mobile doesn't have its own stores -- it's sold online (but only to people with US credit cards and a US address) and through independent retailers.
You can use their dealer locator page to find the closest shop to your hotel.