diversión con AT&T en Monterrey, Mexico

I’m in Monterrey, Mexico for work, and of course brought my iPhone. I was also in two cities in Canada at the tail end of last week (Toronto, briefly, then Winnipeg), and used my iPhone there as well. While in Canada, I had no difficulty obtaining voice and data coverage by connecting to Rogers Communications, and frankly, didn’t really give it a whole lot of thought.

Until I arrived in Monterrey today. I turned on my wireless connection on the iPhone when we landed and got e-mail just fine. But when I went to make a phone call, nada. The call failed every time. I went online and realized how stupid I was. Unlike the situation with Rogers in Canada, I could not make a call in Mexico via roaming unless I enabled an international account through AT&T. Until that is done, the iPhone is essentially a brick with regard to telephone calls (data was working fine, however).

Problem is—how do you call AT&T from Mexico if your iPhone isn’t enabled for Mexico?

First I thought it was the prefix I was using (001, which is actually correct). Then I realized I had International Support enabled on the iPhone, so in theory I didn’t need the prefix. Theory didn’t exactly work, however, since I still couldn’t get anywhere unless I turned off International Support and entered the prefix. And even then, forget it—you just can’t make calls, period, until you contact AT&T.

I tried calling the 800 number for AT&T (as provided on their Web site for “international support signup”) multiple times from the hotel’s room phone, but the call would not go through.

At that point, I called the hotel operator, who then connected me with Internet tech support, which wasn’t needed. I then redialed the operator and specifically said “No Internet,” and she told me that you just can’t access 800 numbers from Mexico without paying $4/minute. So I was stuck. Following the operator’s instructions, I dialed AT&T’s 800 number using 880 as the prefix rather than 800, and it worked. Except that I was now in ”phone hold“ hell for a few minutes waiting for a person to come on. And when that happened, she still had to transfer me to the right person, who fortunately was willing to call me on my iPhone rather than incur yet another few minutes of phone time at $4/minute. 

The upshot of my conversation with AT&T: first, you need to buy the international plan at $5.99/month, which gets you a $0.59/minute phone rate. That’s exclusive of data—I went for the $59/month international data plan that gives me 50 MB/month. That might sound like a lot, but it isn’t—I used 10 MB apparently in two days last week in Canada just from regular e-mail and Internet usage. Oh, and voicemails cost as well, even if you don’t access them until you get back to the States. Text messages also cost if I send them, but surprisingly don’t cost extra if I receive them (which is better, in that respect, than back home, since when one goes over the SMS limit, text messages received cost as much as messages that are sent by the user).

Sigh…I’m in the wrong business. This is a nice racket. I’m not saying that AT&T is unique in this regard—they’re all gonifs (an Inuit word for ”thief“). But it’s ridiculous. They own the pipes, and aside from occasional costs for infrastructure upgrades, can rake in a decent revenue stream from their users. 

So there you have it; a lot of money every month for the ability to do business in neighboring countries on top of a $119/month unlimited data plan. There’s got to be a better way.

And I’d still love to understand why I can’t get the iPhone’s International Support to work. On the other hand, the view is beautiful (it’s so tempting to get to the nearby mountains and ascend to the summit), and at least I have connectivity, so it’s hardly the end of the world. Still, the wireless charges are annoying when I think of it. So I guess I’ll have to stop thinking about it once this post is submitted.