Friday, 30 January 2015

Life on the road: being connected

Living on the road is very different from being in a fixed abode, everything has to be mobile, accessible. Living in a different country also it's challenges as you don't know how things work.

Mobile/Cell Phone and Data

At home,  it's not uncommon to have unlimited download or large amounts of download to keep up with the digital world. On the road, you are on wireless, so this isn't an option.

Like Australia, if you want good coverage, you need to go with the big boys, who are often the most expensive. The two big players in the USA are AT&T and Verizon. If you are going to be in major cities there are other players like Sprint. The first two years we had a contract with AT&T as we believed that they had the best coverage. We were wrong, Verizon does. So often we saw people talking on their phones in out of the way places and we had no connection. Note: It's difficult to open an account if you are a non US citizen as you don't have a social security number. Your options are to pay a $500 (AT&T) or $400 (Verizon) security deposit or ask a friend to open the account for you.

On our first contract we had a smartphone which we used as a hotspot for our iPad and laptops. We had a $40 call plan with a $50 data plan (5GB) + taxes of course. 5Gb was the most we could have with the phone plan and it doesn't take very long to use it up. They then charge you $10 for each 1GB you use. They are very strict with the plans you can use for hotspots and will cancel your plan if you abuse it, apparently it uses a different port, so they can tell. Be aware also, that the US and Canada charge for each party for outgoing and incoming calls, something we are not used to. Also, unlike Australia, you can't move the SIM card to another phone either as the plan is connected to the IMEI number on the phone. The call plan was pretty much useless to us as we didn't know many people to ring, but this was the smallest amount we could get. The first time we left the USA for six months, we suspended our account with the AT&T branch we had bought the plan and phone with, but you still have to pay a small monthly fee. They would only suspend it for 3 months, so we cut off the data plan so that when the service recommenced we would only be charged for the call plan. The second time we suspended it, I did it over the phone directly with AT&T from Australia and was asked how long I wanted to suspend it for. So I said 6 months, what did I have to lose? - okay, she said! brilliant.

As soon as the two years were up, we cancelled and went to Verizon. Being Australian we couldn't just sign up in any old Verizon store, we had to go to a Business store. We paid the $400 bond for post paid data plan as the prepaid plans are very limiting and very expensive, plus a $35 activation charge. We went for a cheap Samsung flip phone for our calls ($20), which is CDMA and doesn't have a SIM card, with a $100 365-day refill card, we opted for the daily prepaid plan. If you are only here for a short time, there are monthly refill cards. The plan charges us $1.99 for each day that we use it or that someone calls us, and 2c per text incoming and outgoing. My theory was that if we made calls on less than 20 days each month we were better off, it paid off. We didn't even use up the $100 in the six months we were in the country. 

For our data we bought a Verizon Jetpack, a wifi hotspot. A 6GB plan is $60 + taxes each month for a 2 year contract, prepaid is only 3GB. We seem to go through the 6GB faster than the AT&T 5GB, probably because we have more connection time but also because LTE or 4G uses 3x the amount of data than 3G.

The big players in Canada are Bell and Rogers. We haven't taken out any plans as yet. Again, prepaid data is just so expensive. Post paid, you need to sign up to a contract and pay a bond. Not ideal when we are only here for a few months a year.

Skype or Facetime is good for speaking with friends, as long as they have it too.

We needed a solution to ring people in other countries other than the US that aren't on Skype or Facetime such as banks. We started off with Penny Talk which gave us 2c/min calls to Australia but as we had to make the calls on our mobile that wasn't any use to us in Canada. Most of the time we have had internet, either in an RV park or with friends, so now we use Skype (paid) which uses VoIP (internet) to connect to landlines and mobiles. It means we can make calls anywhere in Canada when we are here, where most calls are considered long distance anyway, or call anywhere in the world.

Tips for reducing download

  • Only update apps on one device, instead of each one. If you update on your laptop, then sync your iPad and iPhone before and after, just in case you have added any new ones. Remember that apps not on those devices won't be updated. If you update on the iPad or iPhone, then 'transfer purchases' in iTunes to update the latest version of the app to your computer.
  • Turn off automatic updating of apps on your tablet or mobile
  • Check which apps you have given access to connect online. If you turn syncing to iCloud off, then all Pages and Number documents will be deleted from your iPad, so make sure they are emailed or synced to your computer or the cloud before turning it off. You can then email them back to yourself and open them in the apps.
  • Do software and app updates on other Wi-Fi networks such as a library or RV park, if possible.
  • For Facetime and Skype - click the audio button to make audio, not video calls.
  • Be aware that Dropbox and some other cloud services download data each time files in those folders get updated.

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