There’s been quite a bit of buzz about T-Mobile unlimited international data roaming both in the miles/points world and in the mainstream media. Previously, I’ve talked before about using KnowRoaming, which is a pretty ingenious SIM-sticker which works internationally. KnowRoaming has pretty high rates for Asia ($0.31/mb for Japan) so I wasn’t really keen on paying that. Amol had T-Mobile international data on one of his recent trips and he reported that it worked quite well, so I thought it’d be worth be worth getting one. I’m in Tokyo right now for a quick overnight, so I had the chance to try it out.
I want to preface this post with saying that there are two things I detest, and that is having slow speeds and paying too much for data/talk abroad. The most I’d be willing to pay is $3-4 dollars a day for data. As a benchmark, T-Mobile prepaid charges $3 a day for unlimited talk and text and up to 200mb for 4G data in the US, which is very reasonable. Generally, most prepaid sims worldwide are approximately the same cost if not less if you’re there for at least a week.
Getting T-Mobile International Data Roaming
T-Mobile has free international data roaming with their Simple Choice postpaid plans. The individual plans start at $50 a month inclusive of talk, text and, data for a wireless customer in the US, but what I got was the mobile internet plans which was only $10/month. This is intended for use on a tablet but also works on unlocked phones, and has 1GB of data per month at LTE speeds in the US, and unlimited international data roaming. This is actually a pretty sweet deal if you’re don’t have a plan with T-Mobile because two prepaid SIMs are likely going to be more than $10, so you’re pretty much breaking even just for travelling to two countries a month.
The worst part about the plan is actually getting it in the first place. You need a US credit report, and if you’re a new customer there’ll be a hard pull on your report. So this means you need to find a very nice American friend who will take a credit inquiry for you. 😉
Using T-Mobile International Data Roaming
My friend sent me the SIM by mail, so I didn’t get any of the packaging. But the SIM looks like any other prepaid SIM you’d get abroad. Using it is very straightforward. You’d put it in your unlocked phone, and it was pretty much ready to go after taking a few moments to find a carrier. T-Mobile would then send you a free text message if your roaming country is one of the 120 they cover.
I’ve used the SIM so far in Canada and Japan, and I have to say the speeds are absurdly slow. I knew that it was capped at 2G speeds going into this, but it was so absurdly slow. It was probably slower than in-flight wifi. My phone says that I have 3G, but they throttle the speed so it’s similar to 2G. The several speed tests I did gave around 0.10 Mbps for Download and Upload.
In actual terms, it took between 10-30 seconds to load a webpage, 15-30 seconds to load maps, and 5-10 seconds to load Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. Thankfully, sending messages on chat apps were fairly responsive. T-Mobile does partner with major carriers in the countries (so far) I’ve travelled to so coverage is excellent and only the speed sucks. T-Mobile does offer passes for faster data, but the cost makes it probably cheaper to buy prepaid SIM cards.
If you are currently with AT&T/Verizon/Sprint, I don’t think it’s worth switching just for international data roaming, so getting the $10 plan makes the most sense. My thoughts on this is that paying $10 a month is reasonable, and having slow data is better than nothing. The speed however are just so off-putting especially since it makes me feel like somehow I’ve using mobile data from 10 years ago. Like miles and points, it’s best to diversify, so I can put this in the growing number of SIMs I have.
T-Mobile International Data roaming for no extra charge is a great marketing tool by T-Mobile. It’s the only reason I bothered to jump through the hoops to get a SIM and once you’ve got it doesn’t seem worth it to cancel since you’ve already taken a hard pull. So I will continue holding on to the plan until their promotional pricing ends Dec 31 and should they decide to increase the price.