Tag Archives: t-Mobile

Navigating Elsewhere by GPS

We were going to be in England for a couple of weeks and we wanted to use our phones for navigation like we do in the States. We also needed to stay connected. How did we do it?image

Like most smartphone owners, I have become accustomed to the convenience of having maps at my fingertips when I need to find an address or look up directions.

Offline Google Maps are Worthless

Here at home in the U.S., we have a Rand McNally RVND 7720 Dashboard GPS in our motorhome. All maps are stored locally and no Internet connection is needed to do our routing. But we use Google Maps on our phones when driving the car. Google Maps uses Internet (data) for the maps. If you know you’re going to be out of cell service, you can save a section (a small section) of map offline. We tried that in England but quickly discovered that when using the offline map, you are not able to search or navigate. All you could do is look at the map. So, what good is that?!?

We did verify however that, if you start navigating when you have an Internet connection, the map along that route will be good even after you lose connection.  If you deviate from your active route, all bets are off. Part of our travels were driving in the NE Norfolk area of England where none of our phones had any signal. No data to run Google Maps! When we stopped for lunch we found a Wi-Fi hotspot and connected. We loaded Google Maps and asked it to navigate to our next destination while connected to the Wi-Fi. That navigation was good even after we disconnected from the Wi-Fi and were traveling thru data-less territory!

T-Mobile is Good in England and much of Europe

Planning ahead for data is the key to success. We had been wanting an iPhone for our weekly “What Does This Button Do?” show, so we decided to get a 16GB iPhone 6 Plus on the T-Mobile network which includes international capability. We were very impressed with the connectivity we had using this phone throughout England and even during our two day jaunt to France and Belgium where our British friend’s phone did not work, the T-Mobile phone did! See the countries included in T-Mobile’s plan on the International page of their website.

Chris had her Verizon Samsung Galaxy S5 phone and AT&T iPad Mini. We purchased local SIM cards to connect over there as international roaming on Verizon and AT&T is prohibitively expensive.

Just before we left for England, I got notification that my invitation-only experimental Google Project Fi world phone was available. Another phone! Great. I’ll be talking a lot more about Project Fi and the 32GB Nexus 6 phone in future posts.

Google Maps turn-by-turn voice navigation works the same in Europe as here. It is the best. We wanted to look at other inexpensive or free apps for our mobile devices, too. We were running both iOS and Android. If we were staying longer, there are plenty of more expensive choices including dedicated satnav units.

Get good paper maps for the areas you will be visiting!

Do not rely on your mobile device exclusively unless you don’t mind getting lost occasionally. Actually, getting lost sometimes can be fun. You may discover things you never expected. Planning ahead using a paper map will help with your orientation and give you a better sense of direction and distances. Especially when we were walking, consulting our phones for directions was often more confusing than helpful.

No app or dedicated device is perfect! Any of them can try to take you the wrong way down a one-way street, or tell you to turn where there is no road. Most don’t care if the road is gravel or appropriate for your mode of travel. Use your head.

One problem we experienced was the speed of GPS location updates on the maps. We missed a couple of turns in the car because of that. The issue is even more pronounced when walking in cities or towns. We got completely turned around more than once because the GPS didn’t know which direction we were walking. Other times, the GPS fix was lost because we were surrounded by tall buildings. GPS needs to “see” the satellites in the sky.

Here are a few apps which were recommended to us. It is not a comprehensive list, by any means. These are available for both Apple and Android unless noted. We tended to trust Google Maps most as we had connectivity on one device or another most of the time.

Maps.me: Free mapping. Totally offline, worldwide maps, fast, and detailed. Only need the Internet to get the app and preload the maps. There was no voice direction for turn by turn navigation as we discovered. We are spoiled by Google Maps clear spoken directions.

OffMaps2: iOS, $0.99. Offline maps for over 4000 cities and tourist destinations.

Telenav Scout: Freemium (extras like voices and traffic cost more) First country map is included free. They partnered with Trip Advisor and Foursquare, great for tourists.

MapFactor Navigator is a free turn-by-turn GPS navigation app for Android phones and tablets using OpenStreetMaps data. Maps are installed on the SD card so there is no need for an Internet connection when traveling. Map and app updates are FREE every month. It has voice guidance in several languages with door-to-door route planning and can handle border crossings without the need to switch data files. Those data files can get pretty big, so you need plenty of capacity.

Sygic is another well regarded app with a free component. The premium app looks to have much better features. It may well be good choice for frequent overseas travelers.

Let us know if you have a favorite navigation or mapping app.

Our Data Plans

T-Mobile’s $70/month Simple Choice Plan features unlimited talk + text and 3GB of high-speed (4G LTE) data at home. They will throttle your speed if you go over 3GB during the month. Unlimited text and slower-speed (256KB) data is included in 120+ countries. Voice calls are $0.20 per minute overseas. WiFi tethering is included and there is no annual contract. You can purchase higher speed data.

Google’s Project Fi Plan is $20/month for unlimited voice + text using the Sprint and T-Mobile networks at home. Add $30/month for 3GB of high-speed data. Additional data is $10 per 1GB, no throttling. Like the T-Mobile plan, tethering is included and voice calls are $0.20/minute overseas. No annual contract.

We also used local SIM cards to turn Chris’ phone into a local UK phone. Read more about that in this article: Three Ways to Get Internet Abroad.

Part Time Mobile Internet Connections

As fulltime RVers, we have no problem signing a 2 year contract for Internet service from Verizon, but we know many people who only travel part time.  What are their options for mobile Internet service?  A couple years ago, your only option was to rely on Wi-Fi which is very UNreliable!  Now there are several options for short term cellular Internet connections.  The technology world moves fast, and nothing moves faster than cellular Internet plans, so take the information below as talking points only.  Check with your provider, and/or your contract for the details that apply to you.


Verizon is the focus of much of the information in this article since it is what we use personally, and it is the most popular service among RVers.  There are links at the bottom for information on other providers.

1. Putting your Contract on Vacation: Even if you do sign a 2 year contract with Verizon, for example, you can put your service (and payments) on vacation for up to 6 months.   Be aware that vacation time will be added to the end of your contract.  That means, if your contract period starts on 1/1/11 and goes thru 1/1/13, and you put it on vacation for 6 months, your contract now goes thru 7/1/13.  Be sure to check with your service provider (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T etc.) for details based on your particular contract.

2. Bring your Own Device: People sign up for a two year contract because that is the way to get the device (Mi-Fi, or cellular modem) for a steeply discounted price.  If you already have an appropriate modem or hotspot device, you can get service on a month to month basis.  So, bring your own device and sign up for monthly service and you can turn the service off at any time.  Standard monthly service plans offer 5GB for $50.

3. Prepaid Mobile Broadband: These plans can be pretty pricey, but it may be the best option to get your teenagers for your month-long summer vacation.  For example, Verizon charges $50 for 1 GB  – expires in 1 month or $80 for 5GB – expires in 1 month.  There are no overages because, once you hit your limit the service is turned off.

4. Cellular Resellers: You can get service without a contract from Virgin Mobile (resells Sprint network) and Millenicom (resells Verizon network.)  Also see the paragraph below on the 3GStore – you will find several options there, including monthly plans that resell Verizon, and DataJack which uses Sprint.

4. Pay-As-You-Go: TruConnect is a service using the Sprint network.  You buy the device from them then pay $5/mo plus 3.9 cents per megabyte.  This would only be good if you are a very sporadic user with low data needs.  According to my calculations 5GB at 3.9 cents per MB = $169.68.

5. Smart Phone Internet: This is my favorite.  First of all, you may find that you don’t even need to take your computer on short trips because you can do your email and browse the web straight from your phone.  If you do take your computer, many smart phones today have a ‘Hotspot’ feature that costs extra from the service provider, but that feature can be turned on/off at will and you only pay for the time you have it on. When it’s on you have your own Wi-Fi hotspot powered by the phone’s data plan and up to 5 devices can connect to it.  You can also use third party tethering software called PDANet. This allows you to tether your phone to the computer with a cable and use the phone’s data plan to power Internet browsing on our computer at no extra service charge.  The PDANet software costs about $20 – one time fee.  See this Geeks on Tour Video: Connecting to the Internet with Droid.

6. 3GStore: 3GStore has a reputation for being very knowledgeable and helpful in giving guidance thru the morass of mobile internet devices, service providers, data plans, and signal boosters.  They are resellers for cellular services and they sell all the devices to make it work.  We’ve had such good experience with them that we are an affiliate for 3GStore.com.  They have several plans for short-term cellular Internet solutions.

Here are some links to more information

Verizon Data Plan Details

Sprint Data Plans

AT&T Data Plans

T-Mobile Plans

Discussion of Part-Time Internet solutions on RV.net Forums

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