Tag Archives: getting screwed

Unintentional Roaming in New York State #ATTSucks

26 Oct

AT&T's claimed coverage map

I am a big fan of Apple’s iPhone. I’ve owned one since the original release in the summer of 2007.  Its weakest link, however, is the AT&T service that an American iPhone customer is ostensibly required to maintain.   Unlike its other phones, AT&T will not unlock the SIM to enable you to easily swap out to another carrier, like T-Mobile in the US, or Rogers in Canada.  It’s possible – but not particularly easy – to hack the phone to enable SIM card swapping.

I had an old, decommissioned iPhone 3G lying around, so I hacked it so I could use it in Canada with a prepaid Rogers SIM card.  For $2/day or $7/week, I get 3G data, as well.  It’s much cheaper than the exorbitantly unfair roaming charges that AT&T hits you with if you make the mistake of enabling data roaming through your iPhone settings.  It’s also much cheaper than the international data roaming option, which adds about $100 to a monthly bill.

Carrier setting

So, when I cross the border – something I do quite often, given that I live within 30 miles of an international crossing – I expect my phone to default to AT&T as soon as possible.  You see, as part of its SIM lock regimen, AT&T has disabled a box on in Settings that’s labeled “Carrier”.  On my hacked iPhone, that box is enabled, and I can see all available cellular networks, and have the ability to manually select any one of them.

The last two times I’ve crossed back into the US from Canada, it has taken far too long for my phone to reacquire an AT&T signal, staying on Bell Canada all the way from the Whirlpool Bridge in Niagara Falls to the 190/290 interchange in Tonawanda. That entire time – on Main Street to Pine, Pine to the I-190, crossing the North Grand Island Bridge, traversing Grand Island itself, crossing the South Grand Island Bridge, and exiting onto the I-290, I was trying to get the phone to recognize the AT&T signal by entering and exiting “Airplane Mode”.  The phone would search for what should be the strongest available signal, and hit onto Bell Canada that entire time.  (Immediately before entering the I-190 S, I had even done a complete shutdown/restart of the phone itself).

Here’s a slideshow of the screenshots of the phone I took between crossing the border at 6:26pm last Saturday, and reaching AT&T coverage in Tonawanda at 6:40pm.  Each photo was taken immediately after a hard reset, or activating Airplane mode for 10 seconds, then de-activating it.

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It’s ridiculous that it took almost 15 minutes after entering the United States, and passing by several domestic cell towers, before my phone would register on its default home carrier, opting instead to continue to roam on a weakening Canadian carrier signal.  If AT&T would simply re-enable the “Carrier” setting on iPhones sold domestically, this problem could easily be remedied.  There have been many times when I’m just close enough to the Canadian border and the phone jumps to Rogers or Bell while I’ve been in New York the entire time.

Obviously, this is a problem that doesn’t affect the vast majority of American AT&T customers, ever.  It is unique to those of us who live in a border area.  T-Mobile does not disable the carrier selection menu on its phones.  AT&T does. This needs to change so that we don’t get hit with exorbitant data or voice roaming charges while safely on home carrier soil.  It’s a matter of simplicity and fairness. It’s also time for Apple to cut the cord with the execrable AT&T, and free up the iPhone for sale with all GSM carriers, including T-Mobile.  That’s how it works in just about every other market in which Apple sells that device.  Including Canada.