T-Mobile in Asia

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here. Two months now with T-Mobile. I’ve been overseas all of this time, and I have been in 9 different countries. So I have quite a few data points.

What I can tell you is that the T-Mobile free international data plan and roaming is no joke. 

I have been one of those people with a pocket full of SIMs. On an airplane, the person in the seat next to me inevitably asks me why I have a wallet full of SIMs. Even the immigration folks thinks its’ a bit excessive. But I carry a SIM to most of the countries I frequent. Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, yup, I carry them. I carry these SIMs so I have a local number for folks to call me on when I am in the country, and so I can get high-speed data that doesn’t cost $20,000 a gigabyte. (Yes, that is really what Verizon charges those who travel with their SIMs!)

But I still get trapped. A connection in Taipei or Incheon Korea, or a stopover in Tokyo leaves me stranded without phone or internet, on a dry and barren island named “Verizon Gouges.” I am simply not going to pay $20,000 a gigabyte for data.

I started carrying a T-Mobile Simple Choice SIM as an experiment. I have now found it indispensable. When I layover in Taipei, I have internet. If I need to call back to the states I can do so for 20-cents a minute, not $2.49. I can send free text messages to and from any country. T-Mobile has become my default connectivity.

I still carry the local SIMs. You still end up needing a local phone number so folks can call you “locally.” For example, most cell phones in China can’t call out of the country, so having a Chinese SIM is important. But I only use them when I am going to be there for an extended period of time. (As T-Mobile puts it politely: If you plan on being in a country more than 5-weeks you may be better served by using a local SIM.)

I am finding that speeds are averaging 70~100 kbps, which isn’t all that fast. But it is fast enough for email, texting, and chatting. It’s fast enough to pick up that occasional attachment. It’s fast enough to share photos with associates. It is often fast enough to use G.729 VOIP, although not always.

T-Mobile has created a marvelous product where I can travel freely and stay connected. I just cannot say enough kind things about their international roaming.

An associate asked me how T-Mobile could afford to give away something that Verizon charged $20,000 a gigabyte for? Common sense says that if Verizon is charging that much, and if AT&T isn’t any better, then there much be a catch.

The answer lies with T-Mobile’s un-carrier strategy. T-Mobile sold off all of their real estate 18 months ago. They mostly just rent tower space which is co-located. They aren’t in the tower business.

When you are renting tower-time your perspective changes. You don’t care if you pay a tower-operator in Austin Texas or a tower Operator in Shenzhen China. It’s all just tower time, and it’s all the same to you. Probably, the tower in Shenzhen is cheaper than the tower in Austin, actually.

When T-Mobile announced its un-carrier strategy it was much more than not having 2-year contracts and lower prices. It was a fundamental challenge to the way that the entire cell phone business operates in the United States. I’m sure that t-Mobiles CEO John Legere saw that Verizon and AT&T had enormous debt burdens that required servicing. His company had relatively low debt and wasn’t as capital intensive since it was out of the real-estate business. He could slash prices and think in new ways such as viewing a tower in Shenzhen no differently than a tower in Austin.

Anyway, if you travel or if you live close to the Canadian Boarder then the T-Mobile simple choice plan is a necessity. If you wonder if it is real I can attest that it is. I have been in 9 countries in the past 8 weeks and T-Mobile has worked flawlessly in every case.

I have one secret tip: Sometimes the automatically selected roaming partner isn’t the fastest one. So if you aren’t happy with the speeds, switch off automatic carrier selection and try a different roaming partner. (Shhhh.)

Way to go T-Mo!