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Ask Slashdot: Best Data Provider When Traveling In the US? 142

An anonymous reader writes: I am visiting USA 3-4 times a year and I need a data service. I also need to keep my cell phone number, so swapping the SIM card in my phone is not an option. I have bought those 19.95$ phones in Best-Buy to get a local number, but those were voice only. So I have been thinking about getting a MiFi hotspot.

I have been looking at pre-paid plans from Verizon(only 700 LTE band for their pre-paid hotspot), AT&T, T-Mobile etc. perhaps to put in a MiFi hotspot or buy a hotspot from a provider, but have no idea which one to use, their reputation, real life coverage etc. It is clear that all data plans in the USA are really expensive, I get 100GB monthly traffic with my Scandinavian provider for the same price as 6-8 GB monthly in the US, which I guess could be a problem with our Apple phones as they do not recognize a metered WiFi hotspot. But that is another issue. I travel all over but most of the time outside the big cities -- and my experience from roaming with my own phone and the cheap local phone so far tells me that coverage fluctuates wildly depending on the operator.
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Ask Slashdot: Best Data Provider When Traveling In the US?

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  • by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Saturday August 29, 2015 @11:38AM (#50416135)

    When I visit the US, I use a Canadian provider known as Roam Mobility. They roam on T-Mobile's network, and the network seems to fall apart any time there are large crowds. Most of the time it worked OK, but when I went to Universal Studios or Anime Expo, I basically had no cell reception the entire time I was at either of those events/places.

    My friends who were roaming on AT&T had no issues.

    • From my experience in California, Verizon works best outside the big cities. At&t is 2nd. I wouldn't even consider T-mobile outside of the city, but to be fair I don't have experience with them. Sprint has unlimited data plans and works fairly well in certain areas and terribly in others.

      • I have T-Mobile right now, and it seems to work pretty well when I go on road trips. There's some spottiness in the mountains, but I guess I kind of expect that.
        • T-Mobile is most built out between Boston, MA and VA. Once you get into say eastern North Carolina - out past Elizabeth City into Edenton and Columbia you can kiss sevice goodbye for data. In fact phone and text barely works there.
      • From my experience in California, Verizon works best outside the big cities. At&t is 2nd. I wouldn't even consider T-mobile outside of the city, but to be fair I don't have experience with them. Sprint has unlimited data plans and works fairly well in certain areas and terribly in others.

        I've used ATT, T-Mobile, and Sprint on both the West Coast and East Coast. Sprint is terrible. Even in some larger east coast cities the reception is spotty and even their LTE speeds can be very slow. T-Mobile works pretty well for me on the East Coast, but there are stretches of interstate where I do not have data whatsoever. The coverage in places like Central California don't seem to be all that great for T-Mobile. ATT has the best coverage of them all, typically. Though I have found deadspots wher

        • I've always used Verizon (for several years now via Straighttalk), because on paper their coverage outside of cities looks better than the rest, including AT&T. But on several recent road trips between Baltimore and West Virginia on I-70 and I-68, I've had zero (as in zilch, none, nada) Verizon coverage from Hagerstown MD west to and including Fairmont WV, while my daughter's AT&T (Straighttalk) has fine coverage almost all the way. So I'm wondering whether the on-line maps I've found are really a

    • My friends who were roaming on AT&T had no issues.

      Part of what you pay for with AT&T and Verizon is that they put up extra towers at large events.

      Universal Studios and Disney World have multiple AT&T and Verizon towers, inside the park, for just that purpose.

      Any time you go to a big event, they'll have towers. They can provide them at outdoor events via trucks with folding towers on the roof, for example.

      You pay for it, but their service is really darn good.

    • Really the two options are Verizon and AT&T. Verizon generally seems to have the better coverage and is a bit more reliable. AT&T by far has the faster network if you are looking to move data. Both are stupid expensive for what they provide which is very little to be honest. To the best of my knowledge there really is no option from any of the carriers here that doesn't include a hefty serving of ass rape.
    • by rerunn ( 181278 )
      roammobility used to be awesome, but now they are completely useless in most big cities. These days, I just go into AT&T and buy a 45 dollar prepaid.
  • This isn't so useful as far as a phone goes, but for an MiFi device... but I recently purchased a Karma WiFi Hotspot. https://yourkarma.com/invite/b... [yourkarma.com] (obligatory share link) or just https://yourkarma.com/ [yourkarma.com] They work as a pay as you go vs a subscription basis. You buy 10GB of data, that data is good until you use it up. The data is still a little pricey ($100 for 10GB, $60 for 5GB) but they run promo deals from time to time. I'm a fan just because I hated having to spend $50/month on a data plan that I wou

    • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

      The Karma go uses sprint's 3g and 4g network and offers non expiring data.

      Sprint has a bit better coverage than t-mobile imho. (sprint has 4g here t-mobile still 2g only)

      This is the best choice for decent coverage with occasional use. But keep in mind they do charge more for the data since it doesn't expire.

      Op did not really state how much he used or how much he was willing to pay.

      If you need near universal coverage go with verizon or att.

      If you need cheap data you have come to the wrong country.

      • Sprint has a bit better coverage than t-mobile imho. (sprint has 4g here t-mobile still 2g only)

        That is in complete contradiction to anything I have ever experienced. I wouldn't use Sprint if it were free. I travel a lot and when I had Sprint I felt like my phone might as well have just been a 100g brick in my pocket. Do you mind me asking which phone and what area you live in? I know that the Nexus 4, for instances, is not FCC certified for the frequencies required to get proper 4G on T-Mobile.

        • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

          Sorry I had not checked the maps since march it shows that I am covered with t-mobile 4g lte service now.

          My primary phone is a verizon 3g samsung convoy 3.
          Because I need my phone to work as a phone and verizon doesn't sell any 4g phones that work as phones.
          I live on the border of oklahoma and arkansas.

          I also have a 4g samsung galaxy victory through freedompop that uses sprint's service so I have a home phone.

          An att 3g ipad 2 and a verizon 4g ipad 4 both on t-mobile's 200mb free for life of tablet plan. Neit

  • Get a dual Sim phone. Then you can keep your number working and pick the cheapest provider for data. Most countries have reasonable tablet rates. You can get a cheap moto g or dual blu phone. I have a nice d6633 Sony xperia z3 dual Sim. I get 10 gigs of data per month pretty cheap.
  • by Daemonik ( 171801 ) on Saturday August 29, 2015 @11:44AM (#50416177) Homepage

    Verizon & AT&T will have the best average coverage throughout the US, especially the more rural areas. T-Mobile, Sprint and the various budget providers who piggyback on T-Mo & Sprint's networks work best in more urban areas, although there are always dead zones here and there too..

    Compared to Europe, the US is still pretty empty, population wise, so a lot of rural areas just aren't worth investing in the network spectrum to cover unfortunately.

    • My mom got screwed from a Verizon hotspot. I don't know if they've changed the policy, but it used to be that you had to have a contract with it -- so they got stuck with it for 2 years when they only needed it for a couple of months. (I have no idea if she asked about it specifically and was lied to, or if she didn't specifically ask and they glossed over it.)

      AT&T has a good network, but if they require contracts, it might be better to go through someone like Net10, which resells on AT&T's networ

    • Population density in Norway is more than 2 times less than in USA. Yet the country has coverage even in the middle of nowhere (as long one stays close to the road) if not with 3G but at least with 2G enough to check email or surf web. Surely sometimes one hits a dead zone, but this is typically due to a mountain blocking the signal. Just drive few minutes, and the coverage is there.
      • The US also has what, 1000X the land mass of Norway? It's not really something you can compare. There are whole states with barely 500,000 people in them.
        • Norway is just slightly less than California. Yet my experience 4 years ago that even in California with population density 6 times larger was that the coverage was worse. And judging by comments I do not see that situation improved.
          • by mjpaci ( 33725 )

            Is there a Norweigan term for "NIMBY"? If so, what's the NIMBY density in Norway compared with CA? I bet the CA density is at least 100x... :)

      • by jbolden ( 176878 )

        European carriers are often subsidized more heavily (like USA land carriers). The bigger problem is that Europe even sparse countries have more uniform density. America has a lot of suburbs and x-burbs where a huge percentage of the population live in moderate densities. Rural highway is easy (though expensive). The problem is what to do in lightly populated areas.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I do a lot of storm chasing on the Plains. I need good coverage to get weather data like radar images. In my experience, Verizon has by far the best coverage. They're expensive and I hate their new plans. I'm still grandfathered in on unlimited data, but the current batch of data plans are awful. That said, if you're concerned with having a signal outside of cities, I think Verizon is your best bet, at least for the central US. I can't speak for other parts of the country.

    • Have you tried Straighttalk? If you have a CDMA phone, it'll use Verizon towers, and the plans are cheaper.

      Disclaimer: I'm a satisfied user of Straighttalk, but I do not own stock in Walmart.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wind sells a better roaming US data service to Canadians than Americans can get. It will give you unlimited data everywhere via AT&T and T-Mobile. There is a slow-down cap of around 3GB or so.

  • by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Saturday August 29, 2015 @11:49AM (#50416213)
    I live in the US but travel in US a bit.
    Port you US number (costs) to Google Voice or get a free number from google voice.
    Get a nexus 6 (unlocked). Go to ting and get both a GSM SIM and a a CDME/LTE SIM fo rthe phone (micro SIMS).
    Activate both. You will have two numbers, but it does not matter. Forward your GV number to both.
    There are some settings changes you will need to make, but once all is done, you can use the nexus 6 on -Tmobile and Sprint depending on coverage. Both are good, but not as good as verizon coverage in rural areas. All you need to do is swap SIMS.

    Get it set up in advance, as it can take a while for ports into GV and forwarding to propagate correctly.

    In a pinch you can carry two phones one on CDMA and one on GSM and do the same. That is what I used to do. More to carry, but I could keep one charging while burning GPS/battery etc on the other phone. That will also use more data as both phones are doing their thing on Ting at the same time for whatever apps you have running.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Coming from Europe, the mobile communications experience in the US is what one would expect from a Third World country, not from the US. Service is slow, expensive, unreliable and not very flexible.

    • You are welcome to stay home.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Don't be rude to our friends from other countries. Sadly, the U.S. cellular companies are crooks and gouge the hell out of us (I'm an American). As with nearly everything else here, the Plutocrats are in control and they can afford what ever they want. The rest of us are just screwed.

        • by Kohath ( 38547 )

          Prices have been going down lately due to intense competition. Sprint and T-Mobile are aggressively competing on price, and V and T are cutting prices to keep from losing too many customers. Meanwhile, Sprint and T-Mobile are steadily building out their networks to compete with V and T coverage advantage, but they have a long way to go.

          And Dish Network has bought a huge amount of spectrum at auction. They will be entering the business in a major way sometime in the next few years.

          They're not acting the w

    • by raarts ( 5057 )

      Coming from Europe, I found Ting a relatively good option for urban areas at least, as they use T-Mobile for GSM/LTE.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actual third world countries tend to have above average mobile networks, because mobile is the only network for them and they rely on it. Prices are cheap because locals need to be able to afford it.

  • I don't think it's possible to answer your question adequately without more information.

    Where are you going in the U.S.? Is it large cities, or out of cities? Just where in the U.S.? Real world coverage is better in some places with some carriers than in others... The U.S. is huge.

    Also if you are going to conventions be aware that some places have local repeaters from some companies but not others - AT&T or Verizon might have exclusive access to prove improved coverage at some particular location (e

  • They may look good, low prices and no overage charger (only reduced speed) but for most of the country it will have no service or Edge (slow 2g). We have tmobile and it sucks when traveling. Soon as your outside a city you loose coverage. Try verizon, best coverage but most expensive. Turn off all your iphone autoupdates for both system and apps, that will help.
    • I love all these T-Mobile bashing threads because everything boils down to what happens when you're out of a city. I travel for work and T-Mobile works fine. Why? I'm either in a major metropolitan area or I'm in the air. I never drive out into the country, and if i do, I don't mind the disruption of LTE service because it will always be there when I get back to a metro.

      The only place this gets annoying is if you are trying to use Google Maps, but price it out. T-Mobile w/ Unlimited Data + a Tom Tom or

  • For my ReadySim works fine when I visit the US.
  • I just skimmed TFA (Pottering's rambling really don't make much sense anyway). By "fully isolated", it sounds like machinectl breaks the audit trail that su has always supported (not being 'fully isolated' by design). Many *NIX systems are configured to prohibit root logins from anything other than the system console. And the reason that su doesn't do a 'full login' either as root or another user is to maintain the audit trail of who (which system user) is actually running what.

    Lennart, this UNIX/Linus stu

    • Say what you want, but at least Lennart doesn't post to the wrong thread.
    • by narcc ( 412956 )

      I get it. You hate systemd and really want to let the world know. Some good advice: you'll most likely find a more receptive audience in the other thread. It's just out-of-place here.

  • Any time I'm in the US, I take out the T-Mobile 7 day plan. It's $15, if memory serves (if toy already have a card, otherwise add $15 to that for the card and registration), and comes with 1Gb data. It's not terribly fast, but good enough for email and stuff where you are away from WiFi.

  • I made a road trip from California to Vermont and back this June. I started off using Simple Mobile which operates on the T-Mobile network because it has the best connectivity at my home. Heading Northeast from San Diego through Utah and Western Colorado I had decent service through Denver. I lost service East of Denver and did not regain it again until half way through Kansas. Coverage between Kansas and Vermont was generally satisfactory except in some extremely rural areas. On my return trip I was a bit

    • by Jhon ( 241832 )

      Their unlimited 2g is at 64kbps. And insane latency.

      That said, I have straight talk and I'm quite happy with it. I rarely go over 3GB in a month (since I have wifi at home and work).

  • If only in major metro areas T-Mobile has good coverage.

    If always within range of an interstate AT+T will cover you well and be compatible with most European devices.

    If in rural North Dakota, etc Verizon's 3G is the only game in town.

    • +1 to this. Verizon almost always has the best coverage (though right now, I'm vacationing in a spot that has AT&T but not Verizon, surprisingly). AT&T has good coverage of interstates and any city of probably at least 10,000 or more. Smaller cities may or may not have great coverage. T-Mobile and Sprint are less expensive, if you're willing to sacrifice coverage, though they're usually good near urban areas.

  • Verizon is the only good choice for good coverage outside of cities. You will pay a lot. If you don't want to pay a lot, then get something cheap and spend your time looking for free wifi. There's no really good, inexpensive option.

    The US is vast. It will be a long time before all the networks fill in their coverage holes and have to mostly compete on price. If bandwidth keeps increasing, it may be forever.

  • I've used an AT&T MiFi Liberate over the past 2.5 years, and it has met my expectations. However, I'm about to drop them because of their price. Their cheapest package is 5 GB for $50/month. I don't need that much data, and you don't get refunds or rollovers for unused data. If you had an Android, you can define metered Wi-Fi networks by going to Settings -> Data usage -> [vertical 3 dots] -> Network restrictions, and toggle on the Wi-Fi SSIDs that aren't unlimited. I don't know if iOS has any
  • by jtownatpunk.net ( 245670 ) on Saturday August 29, 2015 @01:40PM (#50416805)

    I traveled the US for a year from 2013 to 2014 and my [unlimited] LTE service from Verizon was better than any WiFi service I got from resorts and hotels except at three locations For the first half of the trip, I tethered through my Galaxy Nexus phone. For the second half, I used a Galaxy S5. My switch to the S5 happened around the time Verizon started rolling out XLTE in major cities and the speed increase was noticeable. I got up to 80 megs down and 40 up near Atlanta. Verizon's expensive but they have the best coverage. I've also used T-Mobile and AT&T but T-Mobile's coverage was miserable and AT&T couldn't reliably deliver data.

  • If you know where you are going, you'll be able to get the best solution for you by seeing who offers good service in those locations.

    Otherwise, go with one of the big carriers like ATT, Sprint, or Verizon or one of their re-sellers. If you were only traveling in big cities I would add T-Mobile to that list but since you say you are traveling in rural areas, I would only get them if you are sure they cover the areas you are in.

    If you a lot of data (say, more than 10GB/month or so), you may be better off ge

  • I have been a fan of H2O Bolt Wireless 4G service.
    Basically, it's re-branded AT&T service.
    https://bolt.h2owirelessnow.co... [h2owirelessnow.com]

  • You could also ask which is better, vi or emacs.
    • I don't think it's fair to say opinion. There are objective metrics that can be optimized for (price, coverage, speed). So an objective factual response is possible. Though the vi/emacs question is similar I guess - vi is objectively better and it is foolish to argue otherwise.

  • and they all carried multiple phones from multiple carriers. I'll second the "not t-mobile" crowd though. IIRC there was an arstechnica article that talked about the problem, they don't own much of the kind of bandwidth that lets you cover large distances. So they're 4G is fast but if you get out of a populated area you're not getting signal.
  • Hey anonymous Scandinavian neighbor.

    I have myself been in your shoes, and never seemed to get a proper answer, simply because the US mobile market seems totally screwed compared to the "Scandinavian" offers.

    I travel to US often too, and have ended up in using T-Mobile starting with a $30 Walmart Starter pack. It had unlimited talk, text and "unlimited" data with 5GB on 4G (EDGE after 5GB).

    I wanted to keep the number, so when home I change the plan to "Pay as you go" (no roaming available) which is
    • Hey anonymous Scandinavian neighbor.

      I have myself been in your shoes

      So that explains why my best shoes were missing for a few weeks. They smelled a bit funny too. I wanted to let you know how funny, so I set up this propeller to transfer the olfactory information. I call it the "FYI fan".

  • Get a Verizon iPad mini and use the prepaid plan on it. You'll get the best coverage, a wifi hotspot, and a tablet. :-)

    The tablet plan is cheaper than the Mifi plan for some reason, unless I'm reading their plans wrong.

  • Basically, the high-level answer is that you probably aren't going to find exactly what you want. I've had all four major providers in recent years. Pretty much anything else you get is going to be a MVNO reselling one of the big four. (Google Fi is different in that it's reselling both Sprint and T-mobile.) Here is my experience, primarily in California, but also in several places I travel to on the East Coast:

    * Sprint can be borderline useless. The coverage was so bad that I missed many phone calls.

  • I highly recommend FreedomPop. They have an inexpensive hotspot and give you up to 200MB free.Here [freedompop.com] is a link to their 4G hotspot.
  • I feel you. My wife and I travel to the US once or twice a year, and do want continuous connectivity. My experience: pay-as-you-go for data sucks in the US. Coverage is a problem. Americans can't call non-US numbers. If you want to use your cell connection as a broadband replacement, expect to pay through the nose.

    Since some of our family live in the boondocks, T-Mobile and Sprint are not really an option, and even AT&T coverage is spotty. Having driven extensively through "fly over" country, Verizon se

  • I'm going the other direction. I'm from the U.S. but frequently work contracts in Canada.

    Consider getting a dual sim phone. (Yeah, the providers really don't want to mention you can have two phone numbers and two providers in one phone) One SIM is AT&T for the U.S. and the other in my phone is Virgin Mobile for Canada.

    AT&T and Verizon have the greatest footprint for coverage in the U.S. T-Mobile and Sprint have better plans but rarely have signal except in urban areas or along major highways.

    • by sdxxx ( 471771 )

      For Mexico and Canada, T-mobile might be a good option, if you are in urban areas, as their new plans allow free roaming an calling in Mexico and Canada. Just got back from a week in Mexico and my phone worked great. Zero surcharges for international roaming, either voice or data. When you cross the border you get a text saying, "relax, your phone works just the same in Mexico as in the US." That's almost true. The only think I couldn't do is call US toll free numbers from Mexico.

  • Last time I was in the UK, I bought a SIM from 3 and one of the features I didn't realise at the time was that I could use my phone abroad with that SIM exactly as I had in the UK. After I finished in the UK, I flew to Denmark and when I fired up the phone 3DK welcomed me to their network allowing me to use my unlimited UK data and also call and be called from UK numbers as if I was still in the UK. This was amazing based on previous experience with roaming from country to country. I drove over to Sweden an

  • Especially in rural areas. It is the only service that is available for reception at our winter camp in Arizona, and is more widely available in West Virginia than other cell companies. Their hot spot only costs $25 for the hardware, and it works in rural areas where geography doesn't interfere with connections to the cell network.

    They offer 12 GB monthly if I recall their advertising correctly, but you are correct, it isn't cheap.

    Good luck. We are so screwed compared to Europe, Japan, S Korea, etc. Terribl

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