Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sidekick Roaming Hack

I usually leave my Sidekick at home when I travel outside the US. The T-mobile data roaming rates are exorbitant, and if there's one thing the Sidekick loves to do, it's transfer data.

This time, I brought along my Sidekick. mostly for the SMS support which is still fairly cheap ($0.35 a message). There's a simple checkbox on the Sidekick (Main Menu >> Settings >> Network Options >> Allow GPRS/EDGE Data Roaming) to turn off data while roaming. My plan was to land in England, turn on the phone, say to not use data while roaming, and I'd end up with an old school SMS/voice phone.

My plan quickly broke down, when I landed, turned on the phone, and seamlessly got connected to UK T-mobile network. D'oh. The system worked too well. I was in a foreign country, and wasn't roaming, I was on my home network. As a result, regardless of the roaming check-box above, my phone was happily transferring data (and running up a bill, no doubt).

Off went the phone. How ironic is that because T-mobile is so established here that I'm having problems? Frankly, I don't see why data shouldn't be free, just like it is in the US. Aftermall, I'm on the T-mobile network, and I pay these guys. Why should I pay extra charges? But I digress.

Today, I got a great tip on how to solve the problem. I turned on my Sidekick, went back to the Settings >> Network Options. I think clicked on the scan for networks button associated with Network Selection.

The phone churned for a bit and then offered me a list of networks: T-mobile, O2, Orange, and others. Naturally, they expect you to choose T-mobile. I choose Orange. It connected me, and because I'm on an alternate network, it noticed I was roaming and off went the data.

I now have a cell phone that's capable of sending and receiving text messages, but won't slurp down data without my knowledge. I can now text message T-mobile with how disappointed I am in their service over here.

Update: I just got off the phone with T-mobile. They think I'm smoking something. According to them, it's not possible for me to be in London and connect to a network without being in roaming mode. When I see UK T-mobile on my screen, it's actually a totally separate network than I'm usually on. Gah! I'm so confused. I'm keeping my don't transfer data while roaming box checked, and hoping for the best.

Update: I restarted my phone, and sure enough, it came up on the T-mobile network and started exchanging data, just like I mentioned above. I called back T-mobile, and they confirmed to me (in two systems, no less) that I was indeed roaming, even though my phone said it wasn't. So, it looks like this is a glitch with the phone - it thinks it's local, even though it's roaming.

This is bad news, because it means I don't get free data exchange like I do back home. But, on a good note, I'm (a) not crazy and (b) the above hack still stands as a way to force the phone into thinking it's roaming.

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