When T-Mobile announced that it would include free international data on its unlimited smartphone plans, thrilled. Perhaps, I could travel with one phone and avoid roaming fees and the trouble of acquiring country-specific SIM cards while abroad. Last fall, I used my iPhone 5 in France for three months with T-Mobile USA—or, at least, I attempted to.
When I arrived in France, my phone initially could not connect to any cell phone network. It wasn't until I got into central Paris, that it connected to the SFR network. However, it did not obtain a data connection. Calls and texts worked fine, but I couldn't get emails or do anything else that required a data network. What I found was that I manually had to change the network to a different French provider, Orange, to get data.
The speeds were slow. Even though the connection was over 3G, my data was throttled to EDGE speeds. This is not a surprise as T-Mobile indicates that faster data requires a fee. However, for checking and sending emails, EDGE is mostly fine. I could even post photos to Instagram over the network and make VOIP calls using Google Hangouts. The bigger problems were that the connection was often spotty, which led to battery drain, and that the network only seemed to be available in central Paris. Going outside of the city caused me to lose reception altogether.
And after about a month, I went to a soccer match in St. Denis, lost reception, and it never returned, even after I returned to Paris. I called T-Mobile, and they were not particularly helpful. It was not until after four phone calls and over two hours on the phone that I got transferred to someone who seemed like he might be able to help. After a couple calls, he suggested that I pull the battery from my phone to reset it on the network. Since I had an iPhone 5, I was unable to do this. I reset the phone several times. I removed and inserted my SIM card and tested it in other phones. Nowhere could I get on a network using my T-Mobile SIM card.
At this point, I had been without reception for three weeks when the T-Mobile representative called to let me know that I needed a new SIM card. I asked him to have it sent to me. However, he refused to have it sent outside of the United States. So, I had to have it sent to someone in the U.S. who could then forward it on to me in France. I did this but only after delivering a lecture about the availability of international shipping at the T-Mobile representative's local branch of the United States Postal Service. I even offered to pay for the postage, but he refused out of laziness or corporate oppression or bureaucracy.
So, it took another to weeks for the card to arrive in France. In the meantime, I went to other countries in Europe, and had to purchase separate SIM cards for each. The new T-Mobile SIM card did solve my problems and get me back on the Orange network. Unlike my previous card, it worked outside of central Paris. However, the data network was still slow and its use limited.
I think T-Mobile's international data is a good solution for someone who requires little bandwidth and does not need a local phone number. I, unfortunately, need both in France and have been getting by on Orange's prepaid SIM cards, which offer unlimited calls, texts and two GB of data for 30 Euros a month.