mobile phone service in Uluru and in Darwin/Kakadu

Jun 22nd, 2008, 04:25 PM
  #1  
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mobile phone service in Uluru and in Darwin/Kakadu

We're in the process of figuring out what to do about mobile phone service for our upcoming trip to Australia in September.

Our plan is to buy a sim card over the internet, while still here in the U.S., because we go pretty much straight to the Red Center (we have 6 days in Sydney--but not until the very end of our trip). We don't want to be searching for sim cards while in Ayers Rock.

That said--my husband had determined that Telestra has the best service in the Northern Territory. Is this even true? We have found a way to get cards for the Optus network through www.cellularabroad.com. But, we're afraid this card won't work very well in Uluru and Kakadu.

We've looked at www.telestial.com--but we can't figure out what network we'd be getting. I think he got onto a Virgin website--and put all his information in--it was to purchase a card for the Telestra network, but he said it seemed that they wouldn't send a card to the United States.

Does anyone have advice? I know that the answer would just be to buy a card for Telestra at the Sydney Airport--before we go on to Ayers Rock. Is it possible to do that? Will they be way overpriced there?

Thanks so much!

caligirl56 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2008, 04:48 PM
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Optus does not have a good coverage all over Australia - Telstra is much better. I doubt that you will get any coverage in the Red Centre or Kakadu. If you want a mobile for phoning home then you would be much better in getting a phone card which will allow you to phone for next to nothing and phone home every day. I have just come back from overseas and it cost me $35 to phone my daughter for her birthday and talk for a couple of minutes from overseas.
LizzyF is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2008, 05:08 PM
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Telstra (with one 'e') is probably your safest bet for coverage and it would be best if you bought your SIM card at Sydney Airport, I think. Pricing should be the same at all retail outlets nationwide.

I would have thought that the main tourist sites would have coverage by nowm but I don't know for sure. I just tried to access Telstra's coverage maps for the Northern Territory but there seems to be a glitch, whether their website or my PC I don't know. You might have better luck - this link will take you there:

http://tinyurl.com/27wbfo
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2008, 05:46 PM
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Thanks for the replies.

It sounds like Telstra is what we're looking for.

Any idea whether the Sydney airport store that sells the sim cards will be open when we arrive at 6:30 in the morning?
caligirl56 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2008, 06:57 PM
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Back again! Does anyone know what shop sells the telstra cards at the sydney airport? I was going to try to contact them to get their hours.

I searched the airport website, but all I found was the vodaphone shop.
caligirl56 is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2008, 04:07 PM
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caligirl, I'd be very surprised if only one shop were selling Telstra and other SIMs - you can buy them all over the place, especially at newsagents, so try there first, or just keep your eye open for signs outside shops, which are usually prominent. Mostly a shop will be an agent for all the major brands - Telstra, Optus and Vodaphone at least.

0630 is a very busy time for arrivals, as the aircraft movements curfew ends at 0600. I would think that all or virtually all of the traders will be open for business at that time.

You could ask soeone at the duty free shop, which you pass after disembarking and before reaching customs & immigration.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2008, 07:00 PM
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Neil,
Thanks very much. You have been much more helpful than Telstra (we actually talked to them on the phone, and didn't have much luck!).
(I'm sure travellers coming to the U.S. have similar problems if they are trying to deal with Cingular and AT&T)!).

So, I think our plan is to buy the sim card at the airport, and maybe also a calling card at the same time. Then, as we understand it, we can "top off" the sim card as we run low on minutes--just by calling in.

All we need is an unlocked GSM 4-band phone, right?

Thanks again!
caligirl56 is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2008, 09:49 PM
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Yes, an unlocked quadband phone is what you want. I'm not surprised you couldn't find out much when you phoned Telstra, even though their call centre isn't located in Mumbai. When they phoned me about renewing my contract a few weeks ago the telemarketer couldn't answer my questions about overseas service using the offered NextG (3rd generation) handset and had to call back later with the answers. (And yes, I ran into trouble with Cingular in San Francisco).

Have a great trip!
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jun 24th, 2008, 06:33 AM
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We used an Optus SIM card which we purchased from Cellular Abroad. Our reception at Uluru was not the strongest, but adequate.
Orlando_Vic is offline  
Jun 24th, 2008, 08:55 AM
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Neil,
I can top your experience with Telstra: I had not been able to find a Telstra customer service number specifically for SIM cards, so we ended up calling their Business Office. They could not find the number for customer service. Apparently they do not have a company PHONE book? Funny since they are a PHONE company!! They told us to call information! We said that we were calling from overseas, and it would be great if they could look it up for us (through information , I guess)--they said that wasn't possible. Ha! (And I, too, could go on and on about Cingular!!).

Orlando Vic,
Thanks for the info. If we need to, we will go with Optus. The reason we're hoping to go with Telstra is that we plan to drive from Uluru to Alice Springs. We wanted to have the best service possible in case we break down.
We had hoped to order the Telstra SIM card ahead of time--so we could give the number to dog sitters, etc.--but, we'll just have to wait until we arrive in Sydney. Shouldn't be too much of a problem.
caligirl56 is offline  
Jun 24th, 2008, 12:05 PM
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I understand your logic. That stretch of road from Uluru to Alice Springs is harsh and quite desolate.

BTW, if you do drive, be sure to stop in Stuarts Well at "Jim's Place" and see Dinky, the famous singing and piano playing dingo. Hopefully, Jim has not moved yet <http://tinyurl.com/6gu54v>.
Orlando_Vic is offline  
Jun 24th, 2008, 01:26 PM
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caligirl, as with most big companies these days the emphasis is on short-term bottom-line performance driven by hard-nosed institutional investors. Money is saved on staff training, staff turnover is high and corporate memory is short. I speak with some professional experience and I can tell you these problems are near-universal.

I can also tell you that for many years all Telstra staff have had desktop access to a sophisticated corporate electronic directory developed in-house and so advanced at the time that IBM bought the rights for large-scale applications. As for whether the staff in question knew of its existence - see above.

In fairness, though, clicking on "Contact Telstra" on their web site, www.telstra.com, will lead you to the phone number for mobile phone enquiries, 125 111. Despite my experience with that telemarketer I've always found the enquiries staff there helpful and knowledgeable.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jun 24th, 2008, 01:30 PM
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Dinky's on my list. But, I heard a rumor that he might have retired??

Neil--one more question: Do you know if it's possible to get a phone card with the mobile phone prefix?? My understanding is that mobile phones in Australia all have one prefix.
If we could get a phone card with this prefix we could use a combination of the mobile phone and the phone card to call back to the states. This way, we wouldn't have to use a pay phone, (or wouldn't incur charges by using the hotel phone). I guess is also means we wouldn't have to keep buying new cards for every different area we go to. Sounds like it would be very convenient if it's possible!
caligirl56 is offline  
Jun 24th, 2008, 01:34 PM
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Hi Neil,

Looks like we were both posting at the same time.

You're right--the problems are universal. The tiny software company where my husband works just got taken over by a large Indian company. It's been interesting!

The phone number that you get by clicking on the website doesn't work in the U.S. for some reason (yes--we added all the appropriate prefixes--011 and 61 . . .). Maybe we just didn't know what we were doing. Wouldn't be the first time.

caligirl56 is offline  
Jun 24th, 2008, 10:13 PM
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caligirl - I should have thought that that number wouldn't be accessible form overseas. It's unusual even for a toll-free number, which as a rule have the format 1800-NNNNNN, or 1300-NNNNNN, or just 13-NNNN. Sorry about that.

Yes, all mobile (cell) numbers have the format 04NN-NNNNNN. Phone cards don't actually carry a phone number as such - the Chi-Tel card we used to use to call our kids in China required you to dial a local number in your particular city, then key in the card number and PIN, before dialling your overseas number. If you were outside one of the major cities you had to dial the nearest city's number long-distance, with the attendant charge. This isn't a great idea if you're in the middle of nowhere, so I'd look for a card that provides a toll-free number, if such exist. (which was the norm in the cards we bought in the US, I remember). Hopefully they exist. Don't worry if you don't have time at the airport because you can buy cards almost anywhere - newsagents, post offices, Asian groceries (a huge range), you name it.

Australian mobile charges will be higher than what you're used to, so it would be wise to economise on call time. There are no national roaming charges, nor does the called party pay a charge, but I wouldn't advise using your mobile in conjunction with the phone card because that would defeat the purpose (cheap calls).

If you're calling a toll-free number from your hotel room, charges if any should be modest. I say "should", as no doubt there are rapacious hotels that will screw you even on a call that costs them nothing.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jun 25th, 2008, 10:24 AM
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Neil,
Thank you so much. Your help has been amazing.

Not sure what we'll do. We really need to try to keep the charges down, because my husband will probably have to call into work fairly regularly (highly unfortunate to be doing this on vacation--but on the other hand, we're very lucky that he is able to take 5 weeks--probably won't ever happen again until we retire).

I always worry about what it costs to call from the hotel. And now, with mobile phones so prevalent, sometimes it's hard to find a pay phone.
caligirl56 is offline  
Jun 25th, 2008, 11:39 AM
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And don't forget about the internet cafes. Many offer cheap international calls through VOIP.
Orlando_Vic is offline  
Jun 25th, 2008, 12:02 PM
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Orlando Vic,
Thank you! I didn't know about that!
caligirl56 is offline  
Jun 25th, 2008, 10:36 PM
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When I am travelling overseas (from Australia) I use a 'Call Home' card available from our landline providers. Can you get these from your provider?
We've used them from hotels etc and have found the card the cheapest way to call back to our home country.
marg is offline  
Jun 26th, 2008, 07:58 AM
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marg, I think AT&T has an international plan, but it has fairly expensive rates. I actually haven't checked into it recently--I guess I just assumed it would still be a bad deal. After reading your post, I think I'll recheck it?
caligirl56 is offline  

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