Early May of this year, I took a solo 10 day cruise on the Norwegian Pearl, out of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, returning to Seattle, Washington.
It was a total blast, and next time I might bring the family. But, we had already been on a week long cruise earlier in the school year, so I didn’t want to push things.
I’m a post-paid T-Mobile customer and have been for a long time. I love this company and everything they are doing to upset the status quo in the cellular industry.
However, I do need to throw a red flag out to any T-Mobile customer taking an Alaskan Cruise. If you check the coverage map before you leave, you will note that most of the port of call appear to be covered.
And when you drill into the maps a bit deeper, you ‘ll find that the coverage is provided by “Partners”, namely AT&T.
And this is true. In all of the ports, I had great ATT coverage for Voice and SMS (not MMS). However, I don’t use much voice, or SMS. Most everything I do uses data.
And apparently my plan has a 50 Mbit limit while roaming on ‘partner’ networks. From a little research I’ve done, some folks have a 200 Mbit limit.
This gets reset when you return to a T-Mobile coverage area, most likely when your ship is returning to Seattle or Vancouver, through the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.
So, this is how if played out for me. In Canada, you have coverage via your Simple Choice or what ever it’s called these days plans. It’s worked great in Canada and Mexico, both last year and this year. I think I was getting around 2G speeds, but the bandwidth was more than enough for standard asynchronous use. I wasn’t trying to stream or Skype.
So, after losing coverage in Vancouver, I would regain it every now and then, as we passed Canadian cities to the north. My S6 Edge would sync up, send/receive email, update FB, and so on, and then lose connection until the next city/tower was in range. As expected.
On the second morning of this cruise, I woke up in Juneau. Took my phone out of Airplane Mode, as the ship had turned on it’s MarSat tower a couple of times the pervious night, and you don’t want to connect to it unless you are ready to pay $15 a Meg. Yes, check the rates. That TV show you just streamed cost you $500, if you were using the ship’s cell data and not their WiFi.
If you are going to use your cell phone on a cruise you need to very cognizant of who and how you are connected to the outside world. If you don’t, you have a very expensive lesson coming, especially if you are a T-Mobile customer. They seem to have the worse negotiated rates. One must keep in mind, this isn’t T-Mobile’s network one is accessing at sea, it’s the shipping line’s contractor, and everyone on that loop is going to make a bundle.
Anyway, back to Juneau. Took my phone out of Airplane Mode. Voicemail notification start rolling in. Some texts. Some FB notifications. And then a text from T-Mobile saying that I had used up 40 of my 50 Mbits while roaming.?
But I was back in the US? The coverage map showed huge swaths of magenta? I was covered, and at LTE speeds? Or so I thought.
I hotspotted my Asus T200, my traveling laptop/tablet and tried to get to the bottom of things. While pulling up the T-Mobile coverage map of Alaska, I had exhausted the final 10 Mbits of roaming data. The coverage map never finished rendering completely, and I got another text message that I had used up all my roaming data.
There is some kind of irony in there.
So, while roaming on AT&T’s network, it was true that I probably did have LTE speeds. But it is also true that you can easily use up your roaming data cap in minutes, if not seconds.
Now, I guess I could make calls (I never make calls), and I could send Text messages, but no pictures (MMS). My kids and I use Google Hangout to communicate when I’m away from home. They don’t have SMS capability.
For the next 7 days, I was out of the data game, on the T-Mobile front. And here is another ironic part: until we started passing Canadian cities on the windward side of Vancouver Island. Thanks for coming back from the US. Here’s a bit of data.
So, the upshot of this tirade is this: I think it’s a bit disingenuous for T-Mobile to paint these Alaskan cities deep magenta (LTE data coverage) on their coverage map, if most, if not all T-Mobile customers (from my limited research) could exhaust their data ‘roaming bucket’ over the course of a minute or two.
Those US based partner carriers aren’t really “partners.”