Here what I used in my trip back to Ireland in Oct2011, in case others find this helpful:
- In the US, buying a cellphone “out-of-contract” is not the same as buying a cellphone “unlocked”. All of the following only works for an unlocked phone. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you get on the plane.
- Different cellphone companies have different policies on this. AT&T declared that, despite my being a multi-year customer, with no contract, they would not unlock my phone per policy. T-Mobile said upfront that they would need ~40days from date-of-purchase of “out-of-contact” phone before I could ask to have it unlocked. On the 40th day, when I asked T-Mobile to unlock my phone, they sent me the phone unlock codes within 48hours.
- Make sure your phone supports GSM. Sounds obvious, but still needs to be said, as most countries use GSM.
- Buy a “Three.ie” pay-as-you-go SIM card. I bought mine at a stall in a shopping center in Dublin, but they were also for sale in any of the countless newsagent stores across the country. While there are several mobile companies selling pay-as-you-go, I decided to go with Three.ie because they have unlimited(yes, really!) data at 3G speeds, no hassle about using your cellphone as a hotspot and unlimited text messaging. Oh, and comparable prices for voice calls.
- Disassemble your phone to swap out sim card, insert new Three.ie sim card and power up the phone.
- On the phone, enter “1744” and press dial (typically, the green handset button). This will connect you to an automated voice service which will tell you your balance.
- Assuming that works, you should now attempt to call any local number. A good example is the mobile phone of the person at the three.ie stand who sold you the card. Specifically, you should do this because the first call made on the new three.ie account will not be connected until you are verbally prompted through the remaining setup steps. This includes setting up an access PIN (for later topup/account activity calls) and also setting up voicemail, all of which I did.
(Cultural note: While some people would leave voicemail, most people would instead send text messages. However, I found it interesting that even people who didnt leave a voicemail would still want to hear my voice on my voicemail greeting, to confirm they had reached the correct number, before they would hangup and send me a text message.)
- At this point you should be able to make/receive calls.
- To make my Android 2.2 phone transmit/receive data, I had to add the following APN settings:
* on home screen, go into “settings”
* go into “wireless & network settings”
* go into “mobile networks”
* go into “access point names”
* if there is not already a “smart” APN, then create one as follows:
** Name = 3 services
** APN == 3ireland.ie
** Proxy == Not set
** Port == Not set
** Username == Not set
** Password == Not set
** Server == Not set
** MMSC == Not set
** MMS proxy == Not set
** MMS port == Not set
** MCC == 272
** MNC == 05
** Authentication Type == Not set
** APN Type == Not set
…hit save, and go back to “Access Point Names”.
- verify that this new “3 services” APK is present, and is selected.
- Reboot the phone to see if that helps.
- At this point you should be able to make/receive calls, send/receive text messages, surf the web, and use your cellphone as a wifi hotspot.
- To check your account balance call 1744.
- When you need additional credits, buy a one-time use scratch-refill “top up” card at almost any newsagent, and follow the instructions on the back. Alternatively, you can buy additional credits by calling 1744 from your phone, enter your PIN and recharge using a credit card. Either way, you’ll receive a text message with the new balance when the credits are added to your account.