The Big 4-O in Italy – Phone

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Serious geek confession time: I was school-girl-giddy to go to Rome and not for the reason you think. It wasn’t the lure of the Coliseum, wine, or pasta. Nope, what had my all hot and bothered was my phone. Yes, my phone.

When the decision making process was complete and Rome was selected as the destination, there were incredible, life-or-death issues that needed to be figured out.  How would I have the Internets available on my smartphone?! Super important shit. It was highly unreasonable to expect to walk around Italy for a week and not have Internet access on my iPhone. Come on, let’s be real here! What is this, the 1980’s?

I was the Veruca Salt of the information age. I wanted my smartphone to work as normal, regardless of where I was. I wanted access to maps, the Web, email, apps, and iMessaging. If I had a question about some site or piece of art, I wanted to research it. I wanted to find good restaurants and bars and be able to navigate to them. And since I do not carry a watch, how the hell was I going to be able to tell time. Were all these things so unreasonable? I mean, wasn’t Europe supposed to have a cellular infrastructure that makes ours look like two soups cans and a string?

Before the trip, I did some research and found out just how easy it was… well, for me, but I will get to that.

I knew from a friend, who is on Verizon like me, what she had to do when she had taken a vacation to Italy the year before. She ended up getting a month like International Roaming package – whatever that was. I was curious as to what Verizon offered and what those packages offered and the costs. After browsing on Verizon’s website, I knew this was not the direction I wanted to go. Their plans were crap and expensive. At least for me.

The only thing the International Roaming package did was lower the cost of making and receive phone calls and texts from amazingly ridiculous to mildly ridiculous. Data? Ha! Use a wi-fi spot, pal. This was also the general consensus of all that I read from other sources online.  Adding this package on for one month was relatively inexpensive and had the benefit of allowing me to keep my phone number. However, phone calls weren’t free. And data usage was none existent or Ferrari-Gucci-Rolex expensive.

The alternative, if I could do it, was buy a temporary SIM card while I was overseas. Most European wireless companies offered these cards with cheaply priced packages that includes voice, text, and data. The only issue is I wouldn’t be able to retain my phone number. Instead I would have those crazy 42 digit long international numbers.

The second option was for me. Even here in the States, I rarely make or receive phone calls and wasn’t planning on it in Italy. Data on the other hand was a priority like air and water are priorities. So a temp Euro SIM made sense, but could I use one?

I have an iPhone 5. This was the first iPhone to have both the GSM and CDMA radios in them. GSM being the worldwide standard and CDMA being… Verizon. Also, Verizon sold the iPhone 5 without a SIM lock, so it is conceivable to put another SIM card in from another wireless provider and have the phone work. European cell radio capable? Check. Unlocked phone? Check. Then I read the European LTE/4G services are generally more prevalent, reliable, and faster. I swooned. Like O.M.G.

And suddenly I could NOT wait to get to Italy to buy a SIM and test this out. Coliseum? Meh. Sistine Chapel? Whatevs. Internet on my phone? Better make it fucking happen and rightnowomg.

To give you an idea of how willing I was to test this and start the process, once we landed in Rome, I was tired, jet lagged, and dazed, but that didn’t stop me from running around the terminal looking for a wireless vendor. OMGNOW.

Alas, with M’s translation abilities, I found out that all the wireless stores were closed because it was Sunday. I suddenly found myself cursing Catholicism, the Church, and Jesus. Nooooooooooooo…

But wait? What was that? The driver thought that the Vodafone store in the Termini, Rome’s equivalent of Grand Central Station. I think I dragged pour M there on my quest.

Termini may be like an central train station of any capitol city on the planet, but they do NOT have kiosks with maps and directories. I felt like we (ok, I) walked all over that damn station looking for the store. Finally we (I) found the TIM store, but damned if they were completely out of SIM cards. “Come back Monday,” they said. Are you out of your mind?! This can’t wait to Monday. Then we (her) found the Vodafone store. Yes they had a SIM and yes they were willing and able.

Ok, so I can not remember the exact details of the plan. I know I brushed over the talk time, text, and other issues and solely focused on the data. By purchasing the temporary micro-SIM, I would get an Italian number and access to Vodafone’s 4G network for data. My limit for the month (which is how long the SIM lasted) was 2GB. At the time, I was hoping for 4GB, but that was me overestimating. Turns out 2GB was fine.

The fee was 35 euros which, at the time, was $48. With that, I got the SIM card, Italian number, and access to the 4G data available all over Italy. That meant I could use Maps, iMessage, the Web, and other apps needing Internet without having to worry about Verizon taking me out by the milking shed on having their way with me.

The salesman said it would take about four to six hours before the data would work on my phone. I have to tell you, those four to six hours seemed like four to six weeks. Eventually, it worked. During my entire trip in Italy, I had 100% data and Internet abilities with my iPhone. I used email, the Web, apps, and navigation. I found places to eat, I helped navigate us around the city, and the photos I took had location data stored in them. I was even able to send and receive some iMessages. By the time I left, I looked up my usage and I hadn’t even broken a gig. I had no reason to worry. And I never ONCE used a wi-fi spot on my phone.

If you are headed to Europe with an unlocked phone, buy a damn temp SIM card and forget about the actual ‘phone’. Use the Internet there. It is cheap and fast and reliable. But just try not to show up on a Sunday.


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