Hey, Wyeth here. For those of you that have read my wife’s blog, you will know it is full of inspirational messages, and masterpieces of heartfelt emotion and wit. Well, you won’t find that here. This is cold, calculating, and deliberate guidance for those of you looking to navigate the Nicaraguan telecommunications system. Part one is all about how I prepared for mobile phone communications for our trip, and what I have learned. Ok, ok, maybe I will try to be a little entertaining with all of this, but I can’t compete with my wife on any level, espcially writing.
I joined the unlocked phone and SIM card ranks a bit late. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, the basic idea is that you buy a cell phone that is not tied to a particular phone company. This allows you to purchase small microchips (called SIM cards) from companies offering prepaid phone services. One of the advantages is that this allows you to travel between various locations and buy local phone and data services at a resonable rate, compared to using the roaming rates from a remote phone company.
After shopping around and researching a bit, I finally settled on a Samsung GT-55830L (Galaxy Ace) from Amazon. A T-Mobile card from Best Buy, and a $2/day plan gave me unlimited voice/text and 2G data while in the U.S. I only pay if I use T-Mobile services on any given day. The only suprise here is that it took about 12 hrs for the card to activate after following the procedures from T-Mobile. Other than that the serices and phone performed flawlessly. Not much memory, but that is the only negative thing I can say about it.
The prepaid phone business works a bit different in Nicaragua. In some ways it is much better, but very different. Let me walk you step by step through what I have learned.
- There are basically two mobile phone service providers in Nicaragua. Claro and Movistar. (No, I didn’t misspell Movistar.) Each company has kiosks in various locations that you will typically visit to recharge your account. We arrived very late at the airport, so everything was closed, but I have been told there is a kiosk there too. Claro basically has better coverage, but Movistar is a bit cheaper. On our second day in the country someone told me that there would be a Movistar kiosk at the grocery store we were headed to, so that is the company I went with.
- At the Movistar kiosk, I was able to say “Prepago SIM”, and between my VERY broken Spanish, and the teller’s VERY broken English, I was able to get a SIM card. This involved providing my Maryland driver’s license, about 30 Cordoba ($1.50). The teller tried to explain to me as best she could about how to activate the card, but I was lost and so was she. I figured I could go home and do some Googling, and I would be up in a flash. I was wrong.
- Ok here is the first thing you need to understand about a Movistar SIM card. See that eight digit number on the front of the package? That, my friend, is your phone number. Pop the card in your unlocked phone, and baring any technical problems, you can now receive calls. No setup, no activation, nada, nunca, zilch that you have to do to receive calls (at no additional charge). BUT before you leave the kiosk, STOP. You need to buy credits for services, and the teller is not just going to tell you this. She will be afraid that if she asks you from more money you will think she is ripping you off, there will be a big sceen, and the police will get involved. But this is vital, as I will discuss in the next step…
- OK, let me take a crack at explaining this. You have to “recharge” your phone with credits. Credits are used to make outgoing calls and to purchase other voice and data services via text message (more on that in a minute). Anyone who knows your phone number can add credits at any of the thousands of vendors offering “recarga,” or “recharge,” services. Just about every little store you pass will have a sign advertising that they are a recharge location for one or both mobile phone companies. Walk up, hand them a few bucks (U.S. dollars or Cordoba), show or tell them the phone number you want the credits applied to, and in a few seconds you will have credit added to your phone number. Now you can buy services, and you do this by sending a text message to certain numbers with various words depending on the services you want.
- OK, so at this point you have a phone, a phone number, and can receive and make calls. But what about the Internet and texting. This is where things get a bit baffling and somewhat entertaining. I was given a tip by another Movistar rep that to enable 3G Internet for $1.15 per day, I should send a text to 2233 with the word “correo”. I did this, and after responding to a few more texts that asked if I had a Blackberry device, etc, and rebooting my phone (very important step!), I was up and running. Wow, unlimited 3G Internet with downloads of about 5ooK at my house, for $1.15/day (including taxes). Not too shabby, but there are also other plans and deals. You will get an initial flood of text messages from the phone company with specials, and then more on a somewhat regular basis. Let’s talk about those…
- Ok, there are some really good deals advertised from the phone company via text message. The best are for double, triple, quadruple, quintuple, and I have even heard rumors of a sextuple credit multipliers. What happens here, is that the phone companies will advertise via text message that they are offering credit multipliers. Spend up to 100 Cordoba on a recharge, and the company will multiply your credits. Today was a ”quintruplica” bonus day. I asked my wife to purchase 100 credits when she went to the store, and I got 500. I got a separate offer for 30 minutes of calling back to the US for 60 Cordoba ($3).
Well, that’s all for now. Look for more as I navigate this interesting new telecommunications landscape.