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T-mobile's free Global Data - Experiences

HI all. Tmobile seems to have a very travel friendly offering in their basic mobile plans in the US. Basic details - 160 countries, $.20 calls, free text, free 2G data. Sounds like plenty for basic services while traveling.

I wanted to see if anyone has used this plan while traveling and if it worked out good, or if there were issues. Mainly interested in Europe (traveling there later this month).


Posted by
4924 posts

I used my Android phone with T-Mobile in Germany (and briefly, France and Zurich) for two weeks in April. I didn't text anyone (I don't text in general), but I used 2G data extensively. Speed varied but generally it was pretty slow - sometimes painfully slow but usually usable. I lived with it at a few hotels that didn't have WiFi. I also had a small laptop with me and used Hotspot to have internet on the trains and buses I was on, and that was extremely useful. 2G was usually fast enough to confirm and make hotel reservations, check email, check Facebook, etc. Uploading a few pics to Facebook - a FEW - was doable but not a lot at one time. Facebook's photo uploader seemed to choke on a slow connection.

My phone was unlocked and I considered buying a 3G SIM card, but I didn't need to. 2G was really all I needed.

My Android also does WiFi calling - and because you get free WiFI calls to the states, this was a great feature to have. I made numerous calls to to the US using WiFi, and call quality was usually decent, though you can't really move much because if you lose the WiFi, your call loses quality or drops. I uses Starbucks more than once for its free WiFi to make late-afternoon calls in Europe when it was just morning in the US.

I only made a few 20 cent a minute calls - a few to the states when I didn't have WiFi and a few to a B&B to confirm a reservation. The phone worked fine for that.

Overall, the Simple Choice plan is a HUGE plus for any T-Mobile user.

Just make sure you've switched to Simple Choice - that's not automatic if you've been a T-Mobile customer for a long time. You have to change over from whatever grandfathered plan you may have had - I had to.

Also confirm that the countries you will be visiting are actually on the list for Simple Choice! Not all Euorpean countries are.

It wouldn't hurt to see if you can get the phone unlocked just in case you want to buy a 3G SIM while traveling.

Also, it's not a given that an old T-Mobile GSM phone will automatically work overseas. It has to be a QUAD BAND GSM phone. My older GSM T-Mobile phone isn't quad band and doesn't work in Europe. An iPhone or Android should work fine.

Posted by
1189 posts

Thank you Andrew for that in depth report! (and Chris for starting the thread). I have been watching this thread hoping someone with personal experience would give us a report. If I can call my mom and dad for 20 cents a minute a couple of times...that would be wonderful. They are in their 80's and touching base with them is important. So it was 20 cents a minute from Europe to the USA... is that correct? I also read the report about the 2G slower speed with interest. Like you, I don't think it will be a problem for me. I am bringing my tablet because most of the places I am staying have free WiFi. I will do e-mail and research in the evening on it. I do plan on using my phone as a GPS. However, my Microsoft phone is able to work off a satellite. I have already downloaded the maps for the trip. To use the satellite, I just put it on airplane mode and it works great...just like a regular GPS. It even has the voice commands if I want them. I have been using it around home a lot, just to get used to it.

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks for the responses to the thread. Good insight and conversation.

Andrew raised some good points of potential concern which is something to think about. I'm not too worried about the 2G speeds.. I'm an internet old-timer where dial-up speeds were the "norm" for 10 years and my first smartphone's primary selling point was high-speed "edge" service".

However, I did an experiement, and suggest that maybe everyone thinking about depending on Tmobile's service overseas try out. Go into your phone settings and tell it to limit data to "2G" or "Edge" service. This will mimic the service you are getting while traveling abroad. Now, go about your normal routine, or use your phone the way you think you might oversees and see if it works for you.

My results: Google Maps, Waze, and other nav programs work fine (a little delay doing routes sometimes). This is one of my main concerns. Email, check. Facebook: works, but slow loading pictures. Tracking setups: work. So far, 2G seems sufficient for most of my usages, with enough pain to discourage me from spending too much time on my phone :).

I'll probably post an update once I reach the other side of the pond.

Posted by
4924 posts

It's not a bad idea to try your "2G experiment" - but keep in mind the actual speed of each 2G network may vary in Europe. I found the speed varied even depending on my location; even if I seemed to have a lot of bars of reception, data was sometimes reasonable, other times very slow. (It always says "2G" though.) When I first tried it at the Paris CDG train station, it was so slow it was almost unusable, and I thought, "This is going to be useless," but maybe reception was just bad there. Later on the train was better. In France I roamed on the Orange wireless network. I think in Germany (roaming on T-Mobile 2G) it was better, perhaps because it's T-Mobile's own network...

Posted by
124 posts

Slightly off topic:
I can't answer to the T-mobile plans (that carrier is not available in my part of the world), but last year I used a data plan from AT&T and it worked well for me in Rome. Made tons of phone calls (a friend met me there), data use (for random stuff - maps, tracking reservations, reading reviews, posting), and endless texts. I prepaid for 300MB for $60US. My friend, who has the same carrier, also had purchased this service, but somehow it did not get activated for him. He got a text saying that his data use was getting expensive. He called them and they "found" his order and took the charges away.

When I got home a three weeks later, AT&T wanted me to carry it on for an additional month to "cover any late charges." I did not.

Overall, I am OK with my carrier - when we had an extended power outage last fall (trees - love them when they are not falling over) I used my cell as an internet hotspot. We didn't have phone service (my internet is DSL) for about a month. Worked well for me and added about $20US to my phone bill.

Posted by
71 posts

I happened to travel to Ireland shortly after T-Mobile announced their Global Data feature, and overall it was mostly a pleasant experience. There's certainly a convenience of not having to get a local SIM card or contacting your carrier to arrange service overseas, but just to land and you instantly have 2G internet service.

Is it fast for data? No, I'd certainly not make that claim. However, it works perfectly well for navigating with something like Google Maps, which uses data-friendly vector maps for most of the data downloads. If you're looking to do something like stream music or Netflix, 2G-ish speeds will simply frustrate you, but if you just want to tweet, Yelp, email, and do other mostly text-based services, it's perfectly acceptable for speeds. Uploading photos is doable, it just takes a couple of minutes if you want to send up a high-resolution picture.

I did notice that it wasn't actually using EDGE for data services, but was instead actually using HSPA/HSPA+ for data, and just sending the data at slower rates than the theoretical network supported max. Looking at my speed tests, I was getting fairly consistent 0.15Mbps up/down with 200ms ping times. For reference, 0.15Mbps is about 18KB/s, which is roughly three times the theoretical max of 53.3kbps dialup.

If you're going between a lot of countries, the T-Mobile service is probably worth it as you can use your SIM throughout Europe rather than having to figure out which European carrier will work best for you. If you plan on staying in a single country for a week or more and want some faster speeds, it'd likely be a swell idea to consider getting a plan through a local carrier.

Finally, you can view coverage information and maps for each country here.

The only issues I really found was that a) I had to manually find and register my Nexus 5 with the local carrier network. I suspect this is because I was running a rooted phone with a custom ROM that didn't have T-Mobile partners programmed in, and b) the high-speed data pass option never appeared on the T-Mobile website as an option.

Posted by
4924 posts

Nikky: "The only issues I really found was that a) I had to manually find and register my Nexus 5 with the local carrier network. I suspect this is because I was running a rooted phone with a custom ROM that didn't have T-Mobile partners programmed in, and b) the high-speed data pass option never appeared on the T-Mobile website as an option."

FYI, I have a standard T-Mobile Android phone that isn't rooted, and it automatically picked up the local networks as I traveled in France and Germany and registered them, though it usually took about five minutes to register the very first time I joined a new network. I didn't have to do anything manually.

Posted by
6866 posts

We had no problems in Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and Prague with T Mobile. They're actually the official cell carrier for a couple of those countries.

Our 2 1/2 year old granddaughter would call us at 3:30 a.m. on her mother's cellphone using speed dial thinking we were in the U.S. We were glad to pay the $.20 per minute to hear from her.

Most of our communications when out of the country are by E-Mail and Facebook on a very small, inexpensive Asus laptop via WiFi.

Posted by
13525 posts

I just got back from Budapest, the whole of Bulgaria and Istanbul. My T-Mobile account worked in places where electricity was rare and squatty potties were common. Fast data? No, but fast enough for email. I don't surf the net when I travel, and if I did have to find some information for an activity, it worked as well as necessary. Even in some pretty remote locations in Bulgaria the hotels had WIFI. For free data and 20 cent phone calls with the way I travel I don't know why I would mess with SIM cards ever again.