I have been a TIM customer in Italy for nearly 20 years and through my business, we have sold and rented thousands of them over the past 12 years. While we no longer sell TIM due to some of the issues that I will address, I think that I know a thing or two about them.
TIM, or Telecom Italia Mobile, branched off of SIP, the now extinct national carrier. They were the first mobile solution in Italy and are still the largest, albeit not by a large margin. The coverage is very comprehensive and it has always been a force to be reckoned with. The other two main carriers, Vodafone and Wind, are also major carriers (Wind is a distant third place and is known as the “immigrants’ carrier” and it is also very widespread in the South). While Wind probably has the best deals, their coverage, with the exception of the south, including the islands, is sketchy in central and northern Italy. Vodafone, while practically unknown to most Americans, is a huge carrier and is second in subscribers only to China Mobile. The fact of the matter is, I really like TIM and the service and have had my phone number, a very easy one to remember (ex. 3333843333, not exactly this but very close) for many years. However, would I recommend TIM to Americans or Canadians or really any other nationality traveling to Italy? Not unless you speak Italian. This is why.
As I mentioned previously, Cellular Abroad sold thousands of TIM SIM cards each year. About 5 years ago, we switched to Uno Mobile. Uno Mobile is an Italian SIM card that uses the Vodafone network. The main reason we were frustrated with TIM is this. On occasion, when you attempt to add call credit or even to make a call, the operator comes on the phone, basically to solicit and sell a new product to the user. While this is aggravating enough, the real issue is that if they do not understand you, they can, and often WILL, block your SIM card, requiring you to go to a store and present them with a passport or another form of ID and confirm your identity. In addition, if they see irregular calling patterns, like many international calls, which is what our customers did, they can block your SIM card. This would occur to about 2 or 3 percent of our customers. While it was beyond our control, asking them to go to a TIM store while on vacation was certainly not the first thing on their agenda. This was the main issue with TIM when we were still selling them and I know that this still occurs, probably even more than before, as I always find myself having an (unwanted) conversation with someone from TIM when I am using my phone in Italy. Still, since I speak Italian, they can confirm my identity over the phone and I can tell them that I don’t want to know about their new products and services…thank you very much!
Another big issue that I am aware of is receiving expensive text messages. According to a conversation I had recently with TIM, this is a problem even for Italians. It works like this. You receive a message that prompts you to answer so that you get free – whatever, weather report, news, money, etc. The problem is, in the terms and conditions, this signs you up for weekly or monthly texts that cost you money. I have seen them up to 5 Euros per message. Although we do not use TIM anymore, we do hear from TIM customers all the time who complain about this.
Another issue, and one that we struggled with back in the day, is the different calling plans and TIM’s efforts trying to get people to switch their calling plans. It is difficult enough to begin with to try to figure out what plan works best for you (call landlines for free but cell phones or competitors cell phones cost a ton of money, or nights and weekend rates great, poor during the day, etc.etc.) but what happens on a regular basis is that TIM texts you and says, “we are switching your plan to the XYZ plan. Text ‘no’ if you are not interested”. Many of our customers of course didn’t understand and the rate we promised, and originally had, would change.
About 5 years ago, thanks to this issue as well as the fact that TIM makes you give them a copy of your passport to register the SIM card, we met with Uno Mobile. They were looking for a SIM card that would work perfectly for English speaking travelers to Italy. Since we were in the business of selling SIM cards to English speaking travelers going to Italy, they listened to what we had to say. They asked for a list of what a tourist going to Italy would want in a SIM card and we gave them this list:
1. Low rates within Italy and back to the US
2 No registration required with a copy of the passport
3. Easy to understand rates
4. English prompts
5. English speaking customer service reps
They were able to implement all of our suggestions and we even became exclusive vendors for Uno Mobile in North America.
For the last 5 years, we have been selling this SIM card with great success but, to be fair, I do have to mention what the number one problem, and probably really the only one that I am aware of. Recharging the SIM card can present a slight challenge. Here is why. In Italy, when you need to add call credit to a SIM card, you go into a cafe’ or tobacco storeor even a gas station. You can go into one of these stores and add call credit to your SIM card. Virtually all of these stores sell top ups. These top ups are done through a terminal that the clerk behind the counter has access to. Sometimes, if you ask for an Uno Mobile voucher, especially with pronunciation that is not typically Italian, the clerk will say they do not have them. The fact of the matter is that if they can top up any carrier, they can also top up Uno Mobile. All top ups are done automatically through a terminal, hence, if they have one they have them all. Here is my recommendation:
1. Insist with the clerk
2. Buy a voucher through Cellular Abroad
3. Buy a voucher online at the Uno Mobile website
If you purchase it through the Uno Mobile website, the credit will be added automatically. Please note that they do not take American Express credit cards and the service is in Italian. This by the way is another advantage of the Uno Mobile SIM card. You cannot purchase TIM, Wind or Vodafone vouchers through their online stores unless you have an Italian credit card.
I would truly like to hear your experience about purchasing TIM or any other SIM card in Italy. Again, it works for me as a client but as vendors, working with TIM SIM cards was a challenge.