Sunday, January 29, 2012

Phoning in the UK

This is a long one, dear readers. I have a lot of missed posts to make up for. So let's go...

A few months ago, I was toying with the idea of writing a post about obtaining a phone in the UK. But at the time, my story was boring. No longer, dear reader. A couple of weeks ago, I experienced some phone drama, which I will share with you now.

To begin, when I first came to Scotland I was sporting a beautiful 7-month-old iPhone 4. From Verizon. If you haven't spotted the problem yet, let me enlighten you. The Verizon iPhone 4, unlike the AT&T iPhone 4 is not a world phone. You can't get a plan for it with an overseas carrier; you can't even use Verizon global roaming. It just doesn't work. Something to do with a CDMA vs. a GSM something or other. So here I was, left with a big, beautiful, high-resolution... iPod. And digital camera. So for £20 I bought this little beauty from Vodafone. Note that although it looks like a Blackberry, it is decidedly not a Blackberry.

I also got a £10/month pay-as-you-go program that afforded me 300 texts/month (along with some other stuff, but that is irrelevant). Not a bad deal, really, for what it is. But this phone can make calls and send texts, and that's about it. And that's all you really need, right? Sure, if you aren't hopelessly addicted to smartphoning. The amount of time I spend on Wikipedia and IMDb per day is, quite frankly, obscene. In fact, I've made a New Year's Resolution: whenever I can't remember something, I wait 30 seconds before looking it up and try to remember it using my brain first. It's been a good exercise.

Anyway, back to the story. So for three months, I'm roughing it with my adorable not-a-Blackberry. Then Christmas rolls around, and word on the street is that my mom is getting a new iPhone when she switches from AT&T to Verizon to be on our family plan. So I mention in passing to my parents that the iPhone 4S on Verizon is a world phone, and if I had one, I would be able to use it in Scotland. So on Christmas morning, I am delighted to receive a promise that when my mom gets her new iPhone 4S, she will give it to me and she will get my (still very new) iPhone 4. Hot dog! Aren't my parents great?

Well, I got my new phone and spent a delightful couple of weeks playing with it in the US. Now fast-forward to my return to Scotland. I've still got my Vodafone phone for the nonce, but I want so badly to be able to use my iPhone as a phone and not as a glorified iPod.

My plan was simple: walk the 1.5 miles from my house to Vodafone, have them unlock it, get a new SIM card, spend the rest of my days in mobile Internet bliss. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong! I get to Vodafone and they tell me they can only unlock Vodafone iPhones. Ok, fair enough. Where can I go to get this one unlocked? Oh, simple. There's a shop just down the road that will do it. Ok great! (You guys following the stream of consciousness all right?)

So I skip down the road to the Phone Box and ask if they can unlock my phone. Turns out, only Verizon can unlock the Verizon iPhone 4S. Sneaky bastards. Not really sure how to get Verizon to do this, I ask my father back in the States to find out for me. (I would do it myself, but calling the States is difficult in my present condition.) Anyway, the next day he gets back to me with an international number to call, and Verizon is very pleasant and agreeable and unlocks my phone. Hooray! End of story? Not hardly.

The next morning, sitting at breakfast, I mention to my friends that I am headed back to Vodafone after class to get a SIM card. My friend Ian suggests that I might find a better deal for one online, but out of general impatience to start smartphoning, I shrug off his suggestion. However, later that day, he texts me that he has done some research to get "us" some money back if I order online. Intrigued, I agree to meet with him.

Turns out, there is a website, of which he is a member, that will give him money for referring me and will give me money just for going through them to buy my SIM card. It also turns out that Three has a much better deal than Vodafone for pay-as-you-go texting and data. For £15/month on Three, I get 300 minutes, 3000 texts, and UNLIMITED DATA. If the all-caps didn't give it away, that last is huge. I use data like a fiend. So to have as much as I want for only £15/month is outrageous.

Well, skipping ahead a bit, the online scheme didn't work. Three wouldn't mail the new SIM to my dorm for some reason, so I'm back to tramping the 1.5 miles to the shop on Princes Street. But that's ok because I'm so so close to getting my SIM. Thus, in the waning daylight of that January day, I make my way to the little shop across the street from the National Gallery. I stride in, joyous, full of life, ask for my SIM, and am told that they are sold out and maybe I should come back Friday but no guarantees.

I am disappointed, but not yet out of hope. Upon hearing that Phones4U, a third-party retailer, may be able to help, I walk to the other end of Princes Street, where I learn that they do not carry micro SIMs. I then go back in the direction I came from, trying to find more phone retailers. I find another Phones4U and a Currys Digital (recommended by the Phones4U store), both of which deny me.

Now, by this time, it is dark and starting to rain and I have walked over 2 miles (from the time I left home), back and forth along this one street. To be quite honest, dear reader, I was losing hope.

But then, out of the darkness, arose my salvation in the form of... the Carphone Warehouse. That's right. I found the thing I needed, the thing that four other stores did not have, at a place that has not changed its name since "carphones" were a thing. Thanks, Carphone Warehouse!

And that was that. These days, I'm living large with my awesome new micro-SIM, looking up actors' filmographies whene'er I wish.

Except sometimes in my bedroom because reception sucks in the dorms.

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