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kevmag Jan 25th, 2007 05:59 AM

Cell Phone - SIMs and Phones
This is a very naive question, related to an upcoming trip (I've never used a GSM phone, so this is probably a dumb question)....
Does the SIM card you purchase upon arriving in country have anything to do with the frequency your phone operates on?
(In other words, if I arrive with a tri-band phone in South all phones operate at 900 or 1800? Or does the SIM card have any bearing on that?)
Thanks for any info.

amolkarnik Jan 25th, 2007 06:39 AM

The GSM technology works on 2 frequencies, 900 and 1800 Mhz.

The SIM card can be described as a unique identifier that carries your phone number and associates the number with the unique identifier.

When inserted in a GSM phone, the SIM card emits a unique signature to the network along with the phone number and all call made from or to your phone will be routed by the network based on this SIM identity.

As along as you have a phone that works on both GSM freqiuency, it shouldnt matter to you what frequency the network operates on.

I;ve tried to keep this as non-technical as possible.

Patty Jan 25th, 2007 08:06 AM

If you're from the US, we use GSM 850 and 1900 here, so you need to check which specific bands your triband phone operates on. Some triband phones sold in the US have 850, 1900 + one other band (either 900 or 1800).

amolkarnik Jan 25th, 2007 08:11 AM

For the record, GSM works at 850/1900 in the US, 450-500 in Scandinavia (though I believe this has been replaced now) and 900-1800 everywhere else in the world.

In European terms, a dual band phone is one that workd on 900/1800, a tri band is one that works on 900/1800 and 850 or 1900 and a quad band is one that works on 850/900/1800/1900.

Perhaps its best you check the handsdet before setting off.

Gardyloo Jan 25th, 2007 08:25 AM

If you're buying a phone for travel (ebay is your friend) then opt for a quad-band phone and you won't have to worry. Pop in the SIM chip and power up, and your phone will handle the rest.

If your travels take you to several countries, rather than having a bunch of SIMs that turn into pumpkins when you leave the country where they were acquired, have a look at domestic plans (assuming N. America) that offer discounted global roaming rates. We did a comparo last year before setting off to the UK, Czech Republic, Belgium, Spain and S. Africa, and decided that rather than buying several chips that came with airtime that would not be fully used, we'd sign up for (in our case Cingular/ATT Wireless) global roaming and use our domestic chip. For US$5 or so extra per month (only the months we're traveling) on top of our regular contract, we got global roaming rates that were quite comparable with the net rates being charged by the service providers in most of those countries. The big plus was that our US phone number followed us around the world, making it easy to get ahold of us in case of emergencies or important business calls.

Of course if you don't use a GSM system domestically, that option may be moot, but it's worth considering.

Patty Jan 25th, 2007 09:40 AM

It's always a good idea to do a cost comparison between rates using a local SIM vs international roaming through your current provider (if that's an option for you) to find out what's most cost effective for you. In Europe, I generally use my home provider's international roaming whereas in Kenya, I use a local SIM as the rates back to the US are much lower ($0.33 vs $4/min) and the SIM is dirt cheap.

kevmag Jan 25th, 2007 12:23 PM

Thanks to all for your input. We don't have a GSM phone (we use Verizon in NYC). This is a last minute decision (for someone going to study abroard in South Africa), so I'm leaning towards hitting the stores in Manhattan tomorrow to get a cheap tri-band phone and have the student get a SIM card in Cape Town.
PS I'm aware the phone needs to be unlocked, I'm not as technically challenged as I came off in my first post!

stakerk Jan 25th, 2007 05:37 PM

I suggest student wait until arrival and buy a cheap phone there with a SIM card. Make sure it is an "unlocked" phone. That way you can make sure will work in S. Africa.

Kevin from California

spsand Jan 25th, 2007 08:41 PM


i also knew nothing about the cell phone issue, but learned alot from this forum.........I knew that i needed an unlocked GSM phone ( i also use Verizon here in New york City) i called many places and went into many stores in manhattan and nobody carried an unlocked phone to sell me......i finally went to e-bay and have just ordered a motorola, triband unlocked Gsm phone which has been shipped out ( haven't received it yet) i asked the seller if it would take a SIM card and he responed "yes" If you want the info and the name of the seller ( they were prompt in answering my question) let me know.....I paid about $50 .. plus shipping and handling.

cw Jan 25th, 2007 08:58 PM

I have no personal experience, but a friend subscribed to Skype to keep in touch with someone overseas.

You talk through your computer connection and the rates are low.

Alternatively i would second the recommendation to buy a phone when in SA.


amolkarnik Jan 26th, 2007 05:30 AM

As far as SIM locked phones go, they're locked to a network only in the 'home' country. Outside the home country they should be able to connect to any GSM netwrok.

ArthurSA Jan 26th, 2007 05:42 AM

Phones can be locked by a network so that they can't be used on any other network, irrespective of country. I can remember that being the case with one of my daughters early UK-based phones, it couldn't work with a South African SIM card. It depends on what kind of contract you had or have.

amolkarnik Jan 26th, 2007 08:03 AM

I see where you're coming from, but how is it then that a SIM locked phone in the UK will work on any non-UK network while travelling round the world on holiday?

amolkarnik Jan 26th, 2007 08:16 AM

Correction -

I've just been told that SIM locks can be applied at various levels.

Locking a phone to a specific network
Locking a phone to a specific or a group of countries or networks
Locking a phone to work with a specific SIM...

In the UK, contract phones are restricted to work with a specific network within the UK, but derestricted for use outside the country.

Patty Jan 26th, 2007 08:27 AM

With locked phones issued by Cingular in the US, I cannot simply insert any other SIM while in another country and have it work. It must be unlocked in order to do so.

However, I can still use my Cingular SIM and it will roam on networks they have agreements with in other countries.

T-Mobile in the US will give you the unlock code if you have had service for 90 days. Cingular used to not give out the unlock code but have been more cooperative lately and I just got them to send me unlock codes for 2 devices last week.

spsand Jan 26th, 2007 11:01 AM

I hope i ordered the correct phone from ebay.....It is a Motorola 180 unlocked, GSM triband there a question as to whether or not it will accept a SIM card when in Kenya.........

Patty Jan 26th, 2007 11:24 AM

According to the specs from Motorola the V180 works on 850/900/1900. You should be fine in Kenya with 900 and as long as it's unlocked, it'll accept a Kenyan SIM. Make sure you have a dual voltage charger as I've seen Motorolas come with 110 only chargers b( If it turns out to be 110 only, you should be able to get a V180 compatible dual voltage charger for less than $10.

spsand Jan 26th, 2007 11:54 PM

Help me patti

I received my Motorola V180 with a 110 charger.......where can i get a dual voltage charger to be compatible with it? .....OR ......if i buy a converter, will that work ??

kevmag Jan 27th, 2007 04:55 AM

Hello all, I'm the original OP, my saga gets a little more 'techy' now. I bought a Motorola quad-band V195 phone yesterday in Manhattan (from a Tmobile outlet). I got a good deal on the phone (I only had to commit to 60 days with them).
Thinking that I'm a smart guy (after reading about unlocking phones), I tried to get the unlocking codes and/or software on the Internet, and I am getting nowhere. (Everything I see when I google this indicates that the phone is too 'new' to be able to do this remotely).
So, my 2 questions are:
1) I can find a local place to unlock the phone (in fact, the Tmobile guy gave a local guy they steer business to). Is this reliable (from what I could see on the google searches, it seems like they hardwire something on the phone, almost 'shorting' something out)?
2) If I go that route, is there a way to check that it is truly unlocked? (I don't know anyone else with a GSM phone, everyone I know has Verizon, so I can't swap SIM chips.
Thanks as always for any info!

Patty Jan 27th, 2007 09:39 AM

Just google "Motorola V180 dual voltage charger" and you'll find vendors that sell it. I've never used a converter.

Has the local place confirmed they can unlock it? If the phone is too new, there's a very good chance they wouldn't be able to either. See if T-Mobile will waive the 90 day service requirement and give you the unlock code now. Tell them you need to travel outside of the country soon.

tuckeg Jan 27th, 2007 11:00 AM

Don't know if I missed this but one thing to consider is where in SA you will be traveling. Coverages by the various SIM providers varies quite a bit. If you post where you will be, I will try to check with my SA friends and get some carrier advice for you.

Favor Jan 27th, 2007 01:04 PM

If you've been with a carrier for a while and explain you're traveling out of the country - they will unlock the phone for free.

I've done this with ATT and Cingular. Check your carrier first before buying an additional phone.

ArthurSA Jan 29th, 2007 03:23 AM

If you're in the main centres or travelling the main routes, and looking for just GSM or GPRS, there is effectively the same coverage by all three operators. And for all three it's mostly the Northern Cape that has no coverage.

Here are the coverage maps:

Vodacom: (You need to select GPRS/GSM to see the standard coverage.)


Cell C: (I found this painfully and unnecessarily slow, and badly designed. Unless I missed something and tried to go in the wrong directions. I eventually went through the "navigation" menu.)

kevmag Feb 5th, 2007 03:18 PM

Hello all, I figured I would update with the latest.
I contacted Tmobile with my tale of woe, the first person I spoke to said they could not under any circumstances unlock the phone earlier than 90 days. I begged some more and they put me in touch with the contracts group, who told me they could make an exception. I was told I would get an email in a few days with an unlock code.
Sure enough, the email came in 2 days, but with a generic "unlock request denied" message.

I ended up at my friendly neighborhood NYC camera/phone/electronic store (West 84th and Amsterdam on the upper west side of Manhattan). I left the phone for half an hour, and ($30 later) it was unlocked. (I tested it with another SIM chip in the store).

The phone is now with the student in Jonannesburg, and when he gets to Cape Town in a few days, he is going to get a SIM there. To be continued....thanks for all the advice.

tuckeg Feb 5th, 2007 06:28 PM

Coverage maps do not give an accurate picture of the real world. We first got an MTN SIM at JNB when we arrived but found coverage was not good towards the northern Kruger and switched to Vodacom (on the advice of friends living in the area) and had a much better experience. I would check with someone locally before I purchased to find the best provider for the area you will be visiting.

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