I lent my newly upgraded Roam Mobility SIM card to my sister for a 2-day trip to Michigan. I told her I would foot the bill for her service if she would report back with some speed test screen shots. We both have an iPhone 5S and I was curious to see what kind of speeds her phone would get.

I double checked the locations in Michigan where she would be staying. According to both Roam Mobility’s website and T-Mobile’s site (the network Roam Mobility is actually using), they claimed LTE service would be available to her almost all of her trip.

Here are the results:

Detroit, Michigan

iPhone 5S on Roam Mobility in Detroit, Michigan - Map iPhone 5S on Roam Mobility in Detroit, Michigan - Speed Test

Outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan

iPphone 5s Roam Mobility, Outside Ann Arbor, Michigan - Map iPhone 5s Roam Mobility, Outside Ann Arbor, Michigan - Speed Test

Ann Arbor, Michigan

iPhone 5s Roam Mobility, Ann Arbor, Michigan - Speed Test

 

The 3G speeds are actually great…for 3G. But Roam Mobility now supports LTE. Why is the phone showing 3G?

Ok, my sister is pretty good with technology, but she could have messed something up, right?

We started some basic troubleshooting…

Is the iPhone 5S supported? Yep

Roam Mobility LTE 4G device list

Maybe LTE is turned off? Let’s check that because maybe changing SIM cards somehow turned off LTE.

No LTE option on iPhone with Roam Mobility

But where is the LTE option? I’m pretty sure that screen should show “enable LTE” not “Enable 3G”.

I checked Roam Mobility’s support documents and found this potentially useful page: How to enable 4G LTE on your iPhone or iPad

Roam Mobility - How to enable 4G LTE on iPhone

…but I don’t have an Enable LTE switch. At the bottom of the page:

If the feature is not available on your iPhone 5/5c/5s device, we recommend that you contact Apple customer service to troubleshoot and resolve the issue.

You can do this by visiting this Apple Support Article or visit your local Apple Store or Apple Authorized retailer.

If you have any further questions with other issues, please contact our care team via email or phone so we can ensure you have a great experience with our service.

I went to the Apple Support page and asked my sister to try some of the more reasonable suggestions. (Erasing the iPhone to start fresh is NOT an acceptable troubleshooting step for getting cheap US data roaming. It is a little more reasonable if you are at home, on Wi-Fi and you are trying to get your Canadian carrier to work.)

I contacted Roam Mobility support on August 7, 2014, first by email and then, after waiting a few hours, via Twitter.

Twitter conversation - Roam Mobility no LTE option iPhone 5S

So they are trying to blame this on Apple? Come on!

There are a number of people with the same issue on Twitter and Roam Mobility’s Facebook page.

I’d be perfectly happy if they would just acknowledge the issue and say they are working on it. I’d be ecstatic if they included a timeline. But blaming Apple? That’s pretty sad.

I did finally receive a reply to my email support request, 13 days later. Did I mention my sister’s trip was 2 days? It was an automated message that contained a link to the LTE support sections on their website.

Sigh.

For even having the ability to use LTE on Roam Mobility’s network I was forced to pay a $1.99 fee per SIM to “upgrade” my SIM cards to support LTE. I try not to think too hard about why this is even technically necessary because it’s only $2.  I don’t actually need LTE speeds, but since I’ve paid for the privilege, I want my iPhone saying it’s connected to their LTE network!

Despite their lack of LTE, I still need data when I travel to the US and I still don’t want to pay my Canadian carriers’ horrendous rates, so I’m sticking with the lesser of two evils, Roam Mobility on 3G, at least for now.

 

 

For years now, every time I went down to the USA, I would swap out my phone’s Canadian SIM card for a prepaid AT&T SIM card. This worked pretty well, but it was not without challenges. Now I use Roam Mobility. It isn’t perfect (although it’s close) but it is much easier and more convenient than using an actual US SIM card.

What I did before Roam Mobility

While buying the US SIM card is easy enough, successfully activating it is another story. To activate you need to enter a valid US address. Most of the Canadians I know live in Canada and do not have a US address. Usually I would just use my name at the hotel I was staying at, but it’s still not ideal and I feel a little bad about the potential junk mail AT&T might start sending them when my plan expires. You can’t just make up an address either. I actually wasted a SIM card trying that. In my experience, the address must be a valid US address.

Once you have the SIM card registered, you would then have to add money to the account. If you have a US credit card, adding money to your card is simple. You can make a payment during registration or later online. Without a US credit card, I was forced to use a third party service pinzoo. You can add money directly to your phone via their website and pay with Paypal. Once you know about pinzoo, it’s not too hard, but it’s still a bit of a hassle. Also, the last time I purchased airtime it cost me $50, as that was the only plan that would meet my needs. It wasn’t a bad price for a month of voice and data service, but I only needed it for 10 days.

When your trip is over, you switch your phone’s SIM back to your Canadian one. What do you do with the US SIM card? Well, if you are planning to visit the US again soon, you may be able to reuse the SIM. But watch out: AT&T’s prepaid SIM cards expire after 90 days if no additional money is put onto the account. I’ve never reused one of my US SIM cards since I typically don’t travel to the US more than a few times per year. As soon as I put my Canadian SIM back in my phone my US one goes right in the trash. In my case, I needed a new SIM card with each trip. I would actually buy AT&T SIM cards in bulk to get a better price.

I will say that once the account and plan were activated the service had always worked great. However, as you can see, there is much room for improvement in this process as I doubt the average person could be bothered to jump through all those AT&T hoops to get a SIM.

Note: I know I could have just visited an AT&T store once I crossed the border, but I much prefer having my cell phone and data working immediately after I cross the border. Besides, I don’t want to waste precious vacation time waiting in line at the mall to buy a cell phone plan.

Roam Mobility to the rescue

Roam Mobility solves these problems wonderfully. You can register with a Canadian address and pay with a Canadian credit card. Their plans are also very reasonable. Currently, for just $3.95 a day you get unlimited US calling, unlimited calling to Canada, unlimited text messages and 300MB of data. You also don’t have to buy a month of service. You can just buy 1 day at a time. Oh, and the best part: the SIM card doesn’t expire for a whole year! To keep the SIM active, just buy a cheap talk-only $2.95 1-day plan and you are good for another year. (I have paid between $4-$7 each for an AT&T SIM card).

Roam’s SIM cards are actually pretty expensive at $19.95 (they have deals occasionally) but since they don’t expire for a year it’s not a bad investment.

The not so great stuff about Roam Mobility

The data speed could be better. Our data speeds in Canada are actually pretty decent (at least where I travel), so getting used to the mediocre 3G was a step back. I have used Roam in New York, NY and Orlando, FL with my iPhone (4S, 5, 5S). The best speed I saw (once) was in New York at about 7Mbps. Typical speeds I experienced were between 2-4Mbps. In Orlando (and Disney World), all my best speeds were between 1-3Mbps and sometimes I was forced onto EDGE. On AT&T, my speeds were consistently double that a year prior.

Roam uses T-Mobile’s network and, well, AT&T’s network is just better at the moment (especially for iPhones) so slowness is to be expected. I should point out that the internet was perfectly usable most of the time. Photos took a little longer to upload than I’m used to, but it still got the job done. I made several phone calls back to Canada and had no issues with voice quality.

Now interestingly enough, Roam Mobility has just announced they will be launching an LTE network. This should help improve speeds immensely. The mediocre data speeds are the only drawback I can see currently with the service.

Alternatives: What about “Travel Packs”?

Over the last year or two, Canadian providers have started offering US data roaming packs. In my opinion they are still WAY overpriced compared to what Roam offers. Roam Mobility’s site has a pretty good (shocking) comparison here.

Conclusion

Overall I highly recommend Roam Mobility for anyone with an unlocked phone traveling in the US. They provide a much needed service, freeing Canadians from their money grubbing cell phone companies.

 

 

I’ve played with a few of Vagrant’s support provisioners: Puppet, Chef and Ansible. They all are very powerful and have tons of options but of course with options comes complexity. It took me hours to learn each provisioner and get it to do what I wanted and I had to fight with each one at each step.

When I first started using Vagrant I simply dismissed the simple shell provisioner. What serious developer would use such a simple tool? Real developers use real provisioners.

Anyway, long story short, I spent less than 1 hour today with the shell provisioner and got it to do exactly what I wanted. I guess I like to pretend that my provisioning needs were a lot more complicated than they actually were.

The following is a table showing how fast a Rogers user could eat through their monthly usage limit. Note: the numbers do not reflect a user’s actual usage and I’m not saying Rogers should let us download 10TB+ a month but I do think that the current plans are unreasonable. If we are not constantly monitoring our usage we could accidentally go over our limit in a matter of hours. I think all plans should start at 500GB a month and the highest plan should be somewhere around the 2TB mark. I also think the plans should increase by a couple hundred GB per year as more streaming services like Netflix become our primary media source.

Package Download Speed Usage Allowance How long will it last? Max. Potential Download
Ultra Lite 0.5 Mbps 2 GB 0.37 days 162 GB
Lite 3 Mbps 15 GB 0.46 days 972 GB
Express 12 Mbps 60 GB 0.46 days 3,888 GB
Extreme 24 Mbps 100 GB 0.39 days 7,776 GB
Extreme Plus 32 Mbps 150 GB 0.43 days 10,368 GB
Ultimate 50 Mbps 250 GB 0.46 days 16,200 GB

Point of interest. Running at full speed, no rogers plan will last more than half a day.

Calculations:
Megabytes per second = Download Speed / 8
Assuming 0 upload per month (which is impossible)
Assuming 30 days per month.
Assuming 1TB = 1,000,000 MB.
Assuming 1GB = 1,000 MB.
Number of seconds per month = 60 X 60 X 24 X 30 = 2,592,000
Maximum potential download amount = Megabytes per second * Number of seconds per month
Number of days internet will last = Monthly Usage Limit (MB) / Speed per megabyte / 60 / 60 / 24

I was very close to dropping Rogers altogether and switching to TekSavvy for cable internet so I could finally be free of Rogers stupid Usage Limits. The only thing holding me back was the limited speeds of TekSavvy and the $99 fee to have someone come look at my line is something goes wrong. I was toying with the idea of having 2 cable connections (if there was a problem with my line Rogers would fix it for free) but it was going to cost way over $100 a month combined.

Then Rogers released their new plans and usage limits on Wednesday. (The title of their article should be “Rogers takes a tiny step in the right direction to meet customer’s needs with new Hi-Speed Internet Tiers”) While they still stink compared to TekSavvy they are more reasonable. I have no complaints with Rogers service. It has always been excellent and in my experience their tech support and technicians are friendly and get the job done. They just won’t give us reasonable plans at reasonable prices.

The first company to offer me > 5Mbps upload speed and unlimited or 500GB+ monthly usage will be getting my business immediately. Although I despise Bell I would jump at the chance to switch to their Fibre 25 plan with 7Mbps upload if that service was available in my area.

So now I have upgraded to the Ultimate plan to take advantage of the new 250GB usage limit for $99 per month. The 1Mbps upgrade in speed is nice but I am not happy about the price. I don’t care at all about the 50Mbps speed. I have been using their SMC modem in bridge mode for over a year now and it works. I refused to touch the router functionality though.

Oh Canada, why are our internet plans so horrible?