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Another way to get roaming mobile data in the US (for Canadians)

Roam Mobility SIM Card

I’ve previously written about a — slightly cumbersome but workable — method of avoiding data roaming charges from Canadian mobile carriers while traveling in the US. That approach remains workable but has certain limitations; most notably the fact that it doesn’t work for voice (or on smartphones at all) because — unlike the iPad — an iPhone doesn’t have a built-in ‘activation mechanism’ for mobile plans.

Roam Mobility is a new Canadian service that offers travel voice, text and data services for Canadians traveling to the US. Simply, you buy a Roam Mobility SIM card for your unlocked device (phone or tablet). You register the SIM card in your account profile on Roam’s website and buy a service package prior to traveling (packages can be precisely scheduled to start at a particular time if you like, and you can buy the exact number of weeks/days of coverage you need and schedule them consecutively ahead of time). Prices are very reasonable (certainly in comparison to Rogers, Telus or Bell 3G or 4G roaming rates), and if you buy a package that includes voice, the daily rate includes free calls and text messages inside the US and back to Canada.

On a recent drive to New York City (via Buffalo and Schenectady, then onwards down the Hudson River on an Amtrak train), I found the coverage to be somewhat patchy as far as data is concerned, but completely workable in terms of voice and text, even in the low-coverage areas in the upstate backwaters. Most larger towns seemed to feature 3G service (our smartphones aren’t 4G-ready, and I didn’t remember to look at my iPad while driving to see if any 4G connections ever happened) while in between points on the map, we had reasonably consistent (though sometimes slow) Edge service. In New York City itself, coverage was consistently 3G with good speeds. (I don’t know which particular US mobile carrier Roam Mobility rents its network from, but there are some notes on their website about 4G upgrades being at various key points in the network.)

The other thing that’s definitely interesting about this is that you get to keep the SIM card and, as long as you use it once a year, that means you can maintain one consistent “US travelling number” — I certainly like the idea of that.

It is necessary to have a non carrier locked (unlocked) device to use Roam Mobility. If you don’t have an unlocked phone, they’ll sell you one for $50. You can buy SIM cards (both regular/micro and nanon SIM cards are available) by ordering them directly from Roam or going to one of an increasing number of Roam dealers in your area.

I think Roam is worth supporting (even if popping in another SIM card when crossing the border is a hassle) in light of the continued absurd data roaming charges from the major Canadian carriers (especially now that the carriers have apparently decided to appeal a June CRTC ruling that would somewhat curb their ability to act unreasonably towards customers). I asked Roam Mobility’s CEO whether they had any plans to offer the same kind of service for Canadians traveling to Europe, and here’s what he said.

This post is a follow-up to an older post.

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