Testing T-Mobile's Unlimited International Data Plan in France

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. 

The Solution to iPhone 5 Battery Drain: A New Battery

iPhone 5 usage before battery replacement

iPhone 5 usage before battery replacement

iPhone 5 usage after battery replacement

iPhone 5 usage after battery replacement

After about nine months of having my iPhone 5, I noticed that it seemed to be draining faster and would be empty by the end of the day, if I didn't charge it. I hadn't changed my usage patterns, but it was clear that the battery just wasn't performing as it had before. I had to resort to carrying an external battery with me and plugging it in whenever I could. 

Then a couple months later, things got significantly worse. The battery would go from, say, 40% to 10% in a second. Or from 20% to 2%. The phone would often shut down, even though the battery indicator showed 20-30% charge remaining. I could not turn the phone back on until I plugged it back in. Sometimes, it would turn on and work a while longer. Sometimes, I would turn off again once I unplugged the charger. 

Something was wrong. This summer, Apple acknowledged problems with the batteries in an early run of iPhone 5s. However, when I checked the serial number of mine in its online tool, it was not eligible for a free battery replacement. So, I took my phone to the Apple Store and complained about the battery life. They ran some tests that showed that the battery's full capacity was at just under 90%, which is normal for a battery with around 300 charge cycles, as mine had at the time. The full capacity of a new iPhone 5 battery should be 1440 mah, but with time and use, that decreases. So, a 100% full charge doesn't mean the same thing on a phone that's two years old as it does on one that's brand new. 

I had previously checked the capacity of my battery using a tool called iBackupBot, which you can download for free. Sometimes it was in the 85-90% range, and sometimes it was in the 60% range. I explained this to the Apple Genius, but he insisted that the battery itself was in good shape and that I likely had a software problem. How can I solve this, I asked. He told me to wipe the phone and set it up as new. I.e. do not restore it from a backup. Because I do not want to upgrade to Apple's current iOS, which would slow the performance of my phone, and because I wasn't in a position to be able to backup information from my phone at the time, I rejected this solution. 

Instead, I decided to try my luck with a new battery. When I asked that Apple install one for me, they declined because, according to their tests, the battery was in acceptable condition. So, I went on eBay and purchased a battery and the tools required to install it from a seller called ambassador-west. With shipping, it cost $7. It arrived two days later, and I installed it using the instructions in the video below. (If you're willing to pay a little more, you can get one from Amazon with Prime shipping here.) Other videos and instructions you might find online suggest that you remove the cable that connects the screen to the logic board. I recommend that you not do this. It makes the installation process a little more difficult because you have to hold the screen while you're removing and inserting the battery. However, I've read many accounts from people who were unable to successfully reattach the small, fragile cable, rendering their screens blank. 

The entire process took about 15 minutes. The results, as the screenshots at the top of the post indicate, have been excellent. If your iPhone's battery life has become poor or erratic, you may just want to try replacing it. The time required is less than you would need to restore the phone and reinstall all your apps. And you don't have to worry about losing your data.