After having spent the last couple weeks taking careful measurements and tweaking settings on NLC while working with team member on HipChat, Google Hangouts, Screenhero, and Webex, I’ve concluded that I need 3 Mbps up and down and around 100GB per month of data.
We have two weeks in a condo in Sandy Ground with Duaphin wifi which does 11/8 down and up, which will be comfortable for when I get back to work tomorrow morning. The struggle has been to find something which will work for us on the boat once we’re out of this condo. The stakes are high: if we couldn’t find anything, we couldn’t stay here, so we couldn’t buy the boat.
So I’ve spent most of the last two days hoofing it around Marigot and Cole Bay. Serafina’s delectables have been the consolation prize.
There are many providers. On the French side alone are Orange, Dauphin, DigiCel and UTS/Chippie. On the Dutch side are Chippie and Scarlet WiMax, and probably others I don’t yet know about. On Monday, I went to Orange, Dauphin, and Scarlet. On Tuesday, I went to DigiCel, UTS and Chippie.
Of all of these, the only provider with sufficient speeds is Orange, with 4G LTE which I have seen generally doing 15-30 Mbps down and 10-15 Mbps up. Dauphin, DigiCel, and UTS all top out at 3G, which is generally maxing out on my iPhone 6 at 2-3 up and 1-2 down. The folks at Dauphin tell me they expect to roll out 4G LTE in the next month, and DigiCel is saying they will roll it out in August. Meanwhile, Chippie tells me they already have 4G LTE on the Dutch side, but when we were at Lagoonies this evening, I put in my Chippie SIM and saw only 3G. Scarlet only officially works on the Dutch side, though they say the have some customers who are picking up signal on the French side. The big catch: their WiMax technology tops out at 768Kbps up in the best case.
But what about T-mobile and their supposedly wonderful international coverage? Yes, we are TMO subscribers in the states, and yes, our iPhones say they have LTE signal on Orange and Chippie here in SXM. However these connections are throttled, whether by TMO or by the the local carriers to 2G speeds. Speedof.me results on our iPhones using our TMO SIMs while attached to Orange and Chippie LTE, show speeds of about 0.4Mbps down and around 1.25Mbps up. Yes you can probably use Facebook and maybe watch Netflix on your phone, but this is not usable for my professional needs. So much for TMO…
What about Project Fi? Well, first of all, get your number activated before you leave the states, or you’re SOL. They can’t or won’t activate your number after you’ve left and then your precious Nexus or Pixel is worthless. I patiently waited not 1 or 2 days for my Google Voice number to port to my Project Fi phone, but 5 or 6 and I’m still waiting. Google support tells me that when the port does finally complete that I will have to return to the States to activate. All that to pay $10 per GB. That’s not going to scale well to 100Gb per month. So yeah, Project Fi does not impress me.
So, back to Orange. It’s fast enough, but can we get enough data? We can get pay-as-you-go service with an Orange SIM for 15EUR for every 2 GB. Again, this does not scale to 100GB per month. We can get a month-to-month plan supplying 40GB per month for 99EUR. Not great, but doable. The catch? The subscriber must have a French bank account. It makes no difference how fancy of a black MasterCard you may have– no French bank account, no sale. I am told it is nearly impossible to get a French bank account for a non-French citizen. I did go over to LaPoste to set up a bank account, where there was a line of not less than 50 locals. I asked some naive questions of the security guard which saved me standing in the line the whole time, but as far as I got was this: the guard told me to follow around the lady in the pink shirt until she could help me, at which point she told me to fill in a form requesting an appointment to discuss setting up an account. She told me I could expect to get a time slot in about 2 weeks.
Here’s what finally worked for us. The broker is very eager to complete this sale, and we were very direct with her. We told her that we cannot complete this sale if I cannot work and we are about ready to head back to the states at this point. She offered to add our Orange SIM to her existing account and we will work out reimbursement between ourselves. She is a French citizen with a French bank account, so we have no problems here. Of course she is going out on a limb in this situation, in that, should we flake out on payment, her financial record is on the line and she may need to go out-of-pocket for charges we’ve incurred. This is obviously a special arrangement which may difficult for others to replicate, but for now it is working for us and we are very thankful to Brigitte for her willingness to help us out in this way.
Even with this arrangement, the Orange plan tops out at 40GB per month with no option to increase the quota. It should be about 6 weeks before we run in to this limitation, but we may need to, at that point buy a second and possibly a third SIM and plan to get to 100GB per month. This will be very spendy, to the tune of 200-300 EUR per month, but we are hopeful that we will avoid needing to take it that far if we have good luck with wifi and if the other providers come through with their theorized network upgrades.
Dauphin in particular, currently offers a plan with a quota of 100GB per month for 40EUR. If they can get their LTE network up this will be huge. The other promising option at this point is CHIPPIE on the Dutch side. I have yet to see it work, but supposedly they have LTE service there billed at $0.65 per day. This would be the best deal of all if it pans out. We’ll have to see…