Cellular Abroad rents MiFi devices with unlimited data and, although I thought about taking one of them for the trip from our stock, I figured that since the demand for our MiFis is high and stock is low, I would just get a micro SIM card in Italy as well as an unlimited plan for the two weeks I was there. While we always tell our customers that it is oftentimes problematic getting cellular service or data service in Italy, since I know what the issues are, I really wouldn’t encounter any of these issues and I would be up and running in no time. How wrong I was!
Having been born and having lived in Italy for many years, it does not come as a surprise that, to put it diplomatically, customer service as well as implementation of new technology is not Italy’s forte. However, my experience with trying to get data for my iPad was unexpectedly challenging. Since my Italian is fluent, I thought, “if I am having problems, how could someone who doesn’t speak Italian figure this out!?” The answer is that they probably would have given up. Here is a run down of the events and the eventual resolution.
As having email access is vital to me, the same day I arrived in Rome I went to a Vodafone store to purchase a SIM card for my iPad. The pay as you go plan is excellent – only 19 Euros for a month of unlimited data. I bought the micro SIM with no problem. It was a simple matter of giving them a document, in this case my Italian driver’s license, and 5 Euros. I asked the store to insert the SIM for me but they didn’t have a pin or needle or similar object in order to do so. No problem as I could deal with that when I got back to the apartment. The store told me that I had to buy a recharge voucher so I had enough credit to activate the service. I bought a voucher and asked them to add it directly to my number, which they couldn’t do. Their solution was to put the SIM in my phone and add it from there. I told them that I didn’t have a micro SIM adapter to which they responded that I could add it from another phone. No problem I figured, I will just call from my cell phone. However, the number that was on the voucher didn’t work. I asked another clerk if they couldn’t just add the talk time. As I am in the cell phone business, usually distributors can do so from a terminal. The answer once again was that they couldn’t. Another solution that they told me was to find someone who had a Vodafone cell phone and call from their cell phone to add the talk time (which is what I ended up doing but, needless to say, this was certainly an inconvenient).
Once I had the talk time added, I figured that I would be up and running as, after all, iPad’s are supposed to configure themselves automatically. Since it wasn’t working, I called Vodafone. The Vodafone told me that the iPad plan was not activated as the talk time was not on the SIM card yet and that I had to wait until the talk time was on the system, and then I needed to call back. This could take up to 24 hours.
I waited a few hours, called back to activate it and they said I should be up and running. I once again tried to connect. Although I was getting a signal, nothing happened. I called Vodafone again and they said that everything looked ok on their end. We went through the typical troubleshooting points such as verifying that there was coverage and signal strength and making sure that the WiFi was off. The customer service rep was not sure why I wasn’t getting service but she offered to reset the system on their end. She told me to take out the SIM, wait 15 minutes and retry. While I know that this can resolve some issues, it rarely actually works. Still, I didn’t have much of a choice at this point. I took out the SIM card, waited, reinstalled it, turned on the iPad and once again…niente (nothing in Italian).
At this point, several days had actually transpired. Luckily I had my Blackberry with me so I wasn’t totally disconnected. I decided to go to another Vodafone store to see if they could help. They confirmed that I had coverage and credit and that the plan had been activated. Everything looked fine to them too and, too make a long story short, they couldn’t help me. In fact, they told me that they don’t even sell micro SIMs for iPads but one clue that they did give me was that the iPad automatically configures the settings. Hmmm….what if in this case, my iPad did not automatically configure the settings? They didn’t have any information about that and suggested I call customer service. Once again, as with the other times I had to call Vodafone, I had to find someone with a Vodafone cell phone, which I did. I called Vodafone and explained the situation to the customer service. They escalated the call to someone who actually had experience with iPads. Sure enough, the APN was not configuring itself and they gave me the correct settings (mail.omnitel.it by the way). This worked and, after approximately 5 days, I was up and running.
If I hadn’t had my plan B, my Blackberry with service through T-Mobile, this would have been a total nightmare. As it turns out, there was about a day that even my Blackberry wasn’t working for emails and I had to access my emails through the actual data usage – for an extra fee. Ultimately, both were working flawlessly and the service on the iPad was quite good. Still, I wish that I had brought one of our Italy MiFi devices as I would estimate that I spent about 7-8 hours of vacation time dealing with service issues.