Finally I solved my Paris Internet Mobile 3G SIM cell phone nightmare poke my eyes out scream at my phone problem. It was remarkably easy, once I knew the magic trick, which I found on the site Pay as you go sim with data wiki (thanks Toby Ruckert – lunch is on me tomorrow.)
Here are the steps (as of 7/6/11) for an unlocked Android phone and a Gmail user.
1. Go to an Orange store. Ask for a Mobicarte. Do not explain anything. Do not show them your cell phone. Just buy a Mobicarte (it’s a SIM card that is Orange’s prepaid plan.) It’ll cost 9€. Then get some additional credits – I got €25 just because I never want to have to go to the Orange store again.
2. Go home and find yourself a safe place to do phone surgery.
3. Insert the SIM card into your phone and turn it on.
4. “Recharge” your phone. Mobicarte comes with 5€ but you need at least 12€ to activate Internet Max. It’s easy to recharge (since you bought the extra 25€). Go to the phone dialer and type #124*phone_number# where phone_number = the magic phone number on the Evoucher Web Services form they give you when you buy the extra credits.
5. Now you want to follow the instructions for Internet Max on the wiki I referred to earlier. The menu options had changed from the wiki – here are the ones I had.
6. Dial #123#
7. You get a startup menu showing the credit on your prepaid account. You need enough credit on your account to buy the data plan.
8. Choose 2=Menu
9. Choose 4=Vos bons plans
10. Choose 3=Votre multimedia
11. Choose 4=Option Internet Max
12. Now you get a description, choose 1=Suite
13. Then choose 1=Souscrire (Subscribe).
14. Finally, choose 1=Valider (Confirm).
15. Turn off your phone and wait a couple of hours. The instructions say two days, but everything seemed to be working fine about an hour later. Scream with delight as you surf the Internet from your phone while watching your email stream in.
16. To figure out your phone number, go to your SMS app. You’ll have a little txt that says something like “Bienvenue chez Orange, votre numero mobicarte est le your_phone_number” where your_phone_number will start with 06. To have someone call you from Skype, they merely type +336 and then the rest of the number. I have no idea how much phone calls actually cost, but I do know that I have free unlimited Internet for the month.
Now, these instructions are for an Android phone with Gmail. If you have an iPhone, or something else, I have no clue if this will work for you. And no, Google Voice will not work in France.
And then our hero’s glasses broke. At this point the meltdown was complete, and our hero crawled into bed for a two hour nap in an effort to let his soul catch up with him.
I’m on day three of trying to get my Google Nexus S to work with 3G without costing me $17 / minute. Since I use Google Voice for my phone number (and I make almost all of my phone calls on my laptop using Google Voice or Skype) I only need data service. Based on all the feedback I got when I was in the US, this seemed easy. “Just get a pre-paid SIM card from any of the telecom providers when you get there, slap it in, and it’ll work fine” or some varient of that was the suggestion.
Day 1: When Amy and I got here, we wandered down Rue de Courcelles to find the Monoprix and buy some food, soap, shampoo, and tea. Along the way we passed an Orange store and an SFR store. Voila, I thought, in one of the only French words that I know, this will be easy. We stopped in the Orange store first. After waiting 15 minutes, the nice person listened to Amy’s request for “SIM with unlimited data” in French and said something like “you can get that on the Orange store on the Champs-Élysées.” The nice man even tore a page out of a brochure that had a picture of an Android tablet on it and scribbled a few things on the page. Being intrepid and still having a little energy, we crossed the street to the SFR store. We waited another 15 minutes. This time, we didn’t get nearly as far – the response was simply “go to the Champs-Élysées store – we don’t have technicians here.” We went to the Monoprix, successfully bought some food, soap, shampoo, and tea, at which point I had a mini-meltdown and we went back to the apartment to take a nap.
Day 2: We dutifully followed directions and went to the Champs-Élysées Orange store. When we asked for “SIM with unlimited data” we were met with an indignant response. Amy then tried to ask “can we get anything with data for this phone” – then showed my Nexus S – and the woman helping us said “no”, shook her head, and kind of made that “move along” gesture with her hands. We walked a block down to the SFR store and put our name on the waiting list. I observed that there were about 20 people before us on the list and after waiting 15 minutes there were still about 20 people in front of us on the list. #fail – we bailed and went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant near the Four Seasons where we had a lot of carbohydrates.
Day 3: I was determined to have success today. I went for a nice run in the Parc Monceau, went out and got a pizza with Amy, and then marched over to the Champs-Élysées. I had gotten an email from a friend saying “punt on Orange and SFR – just go to the Virgin Megastore – they’ll take care of you.” The Virgin Megastore is across the street from the SFR store, has a really nice entrance, a very imposing guard, and a little Virgin Mobile store to the right of the entrance. Amy tried again – she was getting better as asking for a “prepaid SIM card with Internet / 3G data” in French. The woman at the Virgin Mobile store looked directly at me like the ugly American I am and said in English “we don’t sell that here.” Amy tried again, asking is there some version of this that they sell? Again, she looked at me and this time simply said “no”. Stymied, we tried the SFR store. This time “prepaid SIM card with Internet / 3G data” generated a flurry of activity. After about 30 minutes, we successfully procured two SIMs (one for each phone) and a €15 credit for each. We were sent home with the instructions to activate the SIM from the Web being told that it was faster and cheaper. Home we went, in went the new SIM into my Nexus S, and onto the Web I went to visit the sfr.fr site. Of course, the sfr.fr site was incomprehensible to me. I wasn’t able to login, I wasn’t able to change my password, I wasn’t able to activate my SIM, and I wasn’t able to cure cancer.
Then my glasses broke.