Keeping your iPhone alive in France — Part III

I’m back in France, this time for a leisure trip (my first real vacation in Europe since I graduated here as a Ph.D.) Yes, it’s Winter, but promenading through the streets of Paris without having to worry about the next meeting / deadline / academic obligation is a nice change of pace, cold and rain notwithstanding.

I’m skeptical about the concept of unconnected vacations — in my leisure time I still want to have access to the hive mind, lest my IQ drop a full 30 points. But having a decent data plan in France without breaking the bank is not necessarily obvious, as I’ve been exploring for some time.

mobicarte-holidayOrange Telecom, the main cell-phone company of France, has finally waken-up to the reality that 80M tourists come to France every year — 20% more people than the country own population of 66M. They now propose the Mobicarte Holiday, a pre-paid SIM card loaded with 2h of calls, 1000 SMS, and 1GB of cell data, and unlimited access to Orange Wifi Hotspots — at a price of 40€. If you already have a working Mobicarte you can buy a “Holiday recharge” for 30€. After you use all your credit (or after your credit expires) you can reload the Mobicarte with either the “Holiday” or a normal recharge.

That package is not exactly the cheapest, but it is the most convenient I’ve experienced so far : an offer completely adapted to the needs of the traveller.

Well, almost…

The first limitation is that you’ll probably won’t be able to buy the Mobicarte Holiday from Orange Online store — unless you have a French credit card. This prevents having it delivered directly to your hotel. To compensate that inconvenience, several Orange physical stores are open from Monday to Saturday, until 19h30. I had no difficulty in buying it at the physical store at boulevard Haussmann on a Saturday afternoon.

The second limitation is much more irritating : you won’t be able to connect to the Orange Wifi Hotspots — unless you have a French credit card ! In order to get access to the Wifi hotspots, Orange forces you to install an iOS app — “Mon Réseau” (My Network) — but that app is only available at the French App Store ! Here the synergy of Orange’s nearsightedness and Apple’s greediness creates the perfect storm, as you won’t be able to create an Apple ID for the French Apple store unless you enter a credit card valid in France. (My love–hate relationship with Apple has such a healthy dose of hate because of those things.)

Finally, the kick on the shins : the Holiday credit is valid for meager 14 days, so for longer trips you’ll have to keep buying recharges.

Is there any silver linings ? Well, the SIM card itself will remain valid for 6 months after the last recharge. The price of 20€ a week is still 3 times cheaper than the data roaming offer of my Brazilian operator (Vivo Telecom). You can get a Mobicarte in any one of the mini-, micro-, and nano-SIM formats : you won’t have to deal with SIM clippers (or worse : a sharp kitchen knife and a steady hand). In addition, the 3G Internet offer takes effect immediately (some previous Internet options of Orange took up to 3 days to kick in.)

The Mobicart Holiday is far from perfect, but it’s still the most traveller-friendly offer by Orange France I’ve experienced so far.

Keeping your iPhone (sort of) alive In France — Part II

I am again in Paris, meeting my colleague and former Ph.D. advisor Prof. Matthieu Cord at Université Pierre et Marie Curie as part of our ongoing cooperation. And again I’m fighting to keep my iPhone alive without breaking the bank.

If you’ve read my previous post, you know that you can buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card from Orange Telecom called a Mobicarte. It is still available, and many of the previous considerations are still valid, but some things have changed, most of them not for the better.

First, the (big) bad news : the monthly Internet Max for 9€ is no longer available (as you remember, it offered “unlimited” web access for 30 days, actually capped at 500 MB). In its place you now have an Internet Max day pass for 2€, with a cap of 50 MB. Boy, that’s per day, almost seven times more expensive than the previous offer, and even per megabyte, it is more than twice as expensive. It is still, however, more than three times cheaper than the best roaming offer of Vivo Telecom (my Brazilian company), even considering that I have to amortize the price of the Mobicarte itself (about 9€, with 5€ worth of credit) — so I sucked it up and went for it.

Now for the (silver-liningish) good news: the option goes into effect immediately, it doesn’t take the 48h of the monthly pass, so for shorter trips it could potentially be more advantageous. But there is still that 24h delay for the SIM card ID registration to take place, before which options might be refused at all. And POP/SMTP/IMAP traffic is still not comprised on web traffic (be careful with that), so you still have to pay extra 6€ for the — monthly — Option Mail(*). And that option still takes 48h to activate.

It is just one big ugly mess.

Mobicarte NouvelleThe clearly good news is that the Mobicarte now comes in a double mini/micro-SIM format. It comes as a mini-SIM with a micro-SIM inset, and the micro-SIM can be easily detached by hand, so you no longer have to worry about SIM clippers or sharp kitchen knives.

* * *

One day one phone company will say to its users : “You know what — let’s talk the truth — there’s an international holding that owns our operations in 95 countries. So, since, it makes no sense for us to charge from ourselves, we will give you free data roaming in any of those 95 countries. Just don’t get too crazy on the downloads, ok ?”

And then pigs will fly.

* * *

Configuring the iPhone to prevent unwanted POP/SMTP/IMAP traffic(*) Alternatively you can go to the Settings App and select Mail, Contacts, Calendar, and then Fetch New Data. There you can Disable Push notifications and set data fetching to manual. Remember to go on the Advanced tab (in the end of the screen) and set everything to Manual as well, and that will probably prevent any unwanted POP/SMTP/IMAP traffic.