Saturday, 15 March 2008

How To Get A "Cellphone"

Since my last post was particularly Me-based, I have decided to write a lighter, more useful post for anyone who travels to North America and wants to phone home. To start you off, I have some basic snippets of information that you may find useful. Firstly, “mobile phones” are known as “cell phones” here. Secondly, both Canadians and Americans pronounce Nokia as “No-Kia”. Thirdly, calls cost you whether outgoing or incoming, unless otherwise stated in the contract.

With these basic concepts in mind (remember them, they may be important!) it comes to the point where you have been in the country for, say, 2 months and despite having met lots of new friends and having family over here, you are only able to contact them by borrowing a phone, or using the internet (which is only reliable for students - who are constantly online!). You decide that you want a contract but want to keep your phone because it has a sweet camera and is less than a year old (plus you are trying to save money).

Ok, so that was my situation but it could apply (vaguely) to you one day! Anyway, I started by looking online at companies and in Canada the leaders are Rogers, Bell and Telus. Of the three, Rogers seemed the best and cheapest so I headed to one of their stores (in one of Richmond’s many malls) and asked if I could change from Vodafone to Rogers. The answer was no. Well, no with a free phone on a three year contract thrown in.

I refused it (Employees work on commission so they have to force phones at people apparently) and asked if there was a way to make my phone Rogers compatible (instead of having it remain a British-based phone). Jesse then told me about a guy in one of Richmond’s many Asian malls who could unlock my phone for a reasonable fee, making it region-free so we headed off to a second mall.

The guy decided that it’d cost me $35 and told me to take with me my SIM and memory cards so that he didn’t overwrite them too. 10 minutes later I was holding a Rogers, Vodafone, AT+T, etc. compatible phone in my hand and was ready to discuss contracts. Unfortunately I only get Saturdays off (and only the morning and afternoon at that!) and it was time for work. I decided to continue my quest on the following weekend and headed off to the Flying Beaver.

At work I discovered a slight flaw in the Japanese man’s tweaking. He had managed to register the two main phone buttons (green “call” and red “hang-up”) obsolete! I went through the settings but it seemed impossible to reconfigure the two (since Sony probably hadn’t expected anyone to want to change the button configurations in the first place!) so I tried to get used to not using them as I navigated my new interface and played the three new (Japanese) 3D games that had been installed onto my phone with the upgrade.

The following weekend I was back at Rogers and with my Social Insurance Number, a credit card and my passport I was able to setup a price plan. It gave me unlimited off-peak minutes (which is great because I am at work during peak hours anyway!). 2500 texts a month and a package that included Voicemail and Caller ID (optional extras in Canada!) for the equivalent of £25 a month.

Around the same sort of time I discovered Skype. I decided to use my “cell phone” for local calls and began setting up a Skype account for international calls (charged at 1p/2c per minute to phones, and free to other Skype accounts). I am now registered but need to buy myself a headset, with microphone, so that I don’t have to keep borrowing one from the Bowen family. (Skype is an online MSN style voice chat program that charges the same rate to anyone, anywhere because it goes through the internet and not through phone companies)

Unfortunately, I have yet to iron our all the kinks in my setup: Japanese man’s tweak is getting to be quite annoying, a new phone would be nice, my current phone doesn’t work as an internet browser over here, I haven’t yet purchased a Skype headset, I have no credit cards or spare time (my bank being an alternative method to credit card) to setup a pay account on Skype so am currently only available to contact from other Skype users and I am not sure that I need 2500 texts a month if I can have free calls.

Over the course of the next few months I plan to rectify most of the above issues with the purchase of a new model (into which the Rogers SIM should work without problems) of phone, a new headset and some credit on Skype via my bank. After the free months expire on my phone I will tweak the plan online for a base fee of $15.

Until then I am happy enough with my setup and the fact that I can stay in touch with most people if I want to. It’ll certainly work out cheaper than borrowing phones and then picking up the international-rate bills. It is also nice to have a number in case anyone wants to contact me so I am doing ok in all.

My only advice really would be to be a little quicker than I was in setting up the above communication systems because it was annoying to tell people that I don’t have a phone number whilst holding my phone in my hand; having just used it as a camera!


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