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Home / Tips and Tricks / Our 3G Tower is Defective: The Trials and Problems of Failing a Three-Month Cycle Tour Through Central Asia «Smartphones :: Gadget Hacks

Our 3G Tower is Defective: The Trials and Problems of Failing a Three-Month Cycle Tour Through Central Asia «Smartphones :: Gadget Hacks



The silence spreads over these mountains like I've never experienced before. If I did not put Moby in my headphones, there probably would not be any other sounds. Well, except for someone, Phil probably mumbled in a nearby tent that was so low that his words were imperceptible.

We have stopped for the night, and I have opened a vestibule that gives a glimpse of the brown, jagged face Mountain Peaks, a dusty, rocky plain of nothingness. As always, the sun sinks slowly behind the highest visible mountain, orange and red tones are moving across the sky.

I turn up the volume in the headphones and fall asleep in a light sleep filled with strange dreams and snippets of other people's conversations. When I wake up a few hours later, I'm cold and I have to pee. I put on more clothes. thick cotton sweatpants, fleece hat, camel wool socks, a thick sweatshirt. I walk slowly, cautiously navigating tent piles and bicycles lying on their sides or leaning against each other, holding myself upright.

The glow of cell phones is visible through the light ripstop of some tents, strange, ethereal light that softens and dissipates the green and brown and orange of the fabric, beacons that may be visible from afar, and the gods or passers-by make our location aware. Not that the latter is present here. The former perhaps, depending on what you believe.

We are at the foot of a mountain peak in a shallow valley at about 4,000 meters above sea level, deep in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan. A local family shares this valley with us. A sign saying "Fast Food, Yurt Stay" marks the turnoff. There is no McDonald's, but the yurt is really real and ready to rent if you're tired of camping.

There is no real cell service here, at least no data service. We are on the so-called "roof of the world", so high are our heads almost literally in the clouds. The lack of oxygen makes that seem even more.

Here you can call sometimes but not anymore. Still, when I wake up in the morning, I find my fellow travelers on small collapsible maroon armchairs with oatmeal, about a dozen people balancing their cell phones on their lap next to breakfast, one hand holding a spoon, the other flipping on a touch screen and from.

One of the best features of the Samsung Galaxy line is that international models have a dual-SIM card slot, which allows you to easily switch from one SIM card to another. (If you purchase your Galaxy from a US carrier or from Samsung USA, you will receive a single SIM version, so you must order from Amazon to receive the international dual SIM card.) With the SIM card manager -App from Samsung, users can set their preferred SIM card for calls, messages and mobile data. You can also set the phone to confirm the SIM card every time you call. I have always turned on dual SIMs so that I can accept a call on the inactive SIM card even during a telephone conversation with the active one.

If you use a dual-SIM phone, you will need to purchase a new local SIM card in each country. While there are usually not too many language barrier issues, there are some pitfalls with this approach. Buying and changing SIM cards every time you change your country can be very annoying, especially if you are only somewhere for a week or two. Depending on where you buy the SIMs, sometimes the process involves paperwork and you need to present your passport.

Opportunistic SIM card traders and money changers hang on land borders. When we cross each other, there are usually high fences, perhaps men with machine guns, a small dark hut where it is possible for you to present papers, and people who sell things they can sell. It is not uncommon for money to change hands quickly. Richard has taken over the negotiations for our group and has been working for a better exchange rate or a discount on several SIMs. Sometimes he decides that the price of the SIM card is too high and waits to buy another card into the country. A 3 GB to 5 GB SIM card usually costs between $ 6 and $ 12.

Replacing SIM cards is easy. Richard is perhaps the greatest of all (except the staff) to stay connected – he spent his days on his iPhone. He keeps his UK SIM card and the SIM slot pin tool in his cell phone pocket. I spend a lot of meals with Richard watching him switch between SIM cards, depending on what he does and whom he needs to contact. This man can change a SIM card faster than anyone else I've ever met.

As an iPhone user, I'm sure Richard was thrilled when the latest versions with dual-SIM capabilities came onto the market, even though they use an eSIM and a physical SIM card. Therefore, you usually have to put your trunk on top leave the eSIM to free the physical SIM slot. Apart from the latest iPhones and Google's Pixel 3 on Android 10, there are not many US phones with dual SIM feature. Like the Galaxy I use, you can usually find a dual-SIM version of most flagship phones if you buy the unlocked or international version of Amazon.

For all those who have not constantly exchanged SIM cards. There were some alternative ways to stay connected. My friend Lino from Spain had a Flexiroam SIM card . For a monthly fee, the Flexiroam SIM card connects to the nearby local cell network so the SIM card does not need to be replaced. Another similar option is Skyroam, a mobile hotspot that uses the local cellular network.

To access, you can purchase monthly or daily plans in various data configurations. The monthly fee for unlimited data to Skyroam is $ 99. They also offer day passes for $ 9. Flexiroam prices depend on which country you are in and how much data and time. They offer a 10-day 24-day option, ranging from $ 10- $ 39. Brunei and Cambodia are priced at $ 39. Most other countries range from 10 to 14 dollars for 10 GB. Egypt is one of the cheapest with $ 6 for 10 GB.

(1) Used SIM Maps from the journey. (2) Skyroam Hotspot kept us in touch. Pictures about Vanessa Nirode

International data rates with your regular US carrier are also an alternative, although they are usually not the cheapest option. T-Mobile is known for its international plans that offer roaming in over 210 countries (one of the highest numbers among network operators) at discounted prices. AT & T (my US mobile service provider) also offers monthly data rates of $ 40 to $ 120.

Compared to: The Best International Data Plans of All Major US Carriers

A Random International Data Roaming Event Occurs in Mongolia and the Russian Border While waiting for the intersection, I get a text from AT & T, who draws my attention to their World Cup promotion for free international roaming in Russia. Our entry into Russia happens to coincide with the 2018 World Cup. Interestingly enough, the promotion remains partially in force in Kazakhstan. I think that's not too surprising, as many people do not know where Kazakhstan starts and ends, let alone that it is a country.

One afternoon in Kyrgyzstan, we are planning to build a warehouse in the yard of a guest house with hole-in-the-ground outbuildings. Richard, by far the strongest cyclist in the group, arrives ahead of everyone else and pays a room for us and a few other cyclists in the four-bed guest house. An inside bed, even just a futon mattress on the floor, is gold on such a trip, especially if it comes with a power outlet and a shower downstairs in the basement.

I'm stretched out on my mattress After showering, I read a science fiction novel on my Kindle. Phil, the owner of a vegetable distribution company in Canada, sits on a mattress to my left. Phil, in his 60s, has one of the driest senses I've ever encountered. He can make me laugh, if I only talk about mutton. At this point, he is the only one who has traveled every kilometer of the journey. He will finish the journey with this title. At the moment he is stretched out, barefoot in shorts and a T-shirt and is texting his girlfriend.

Goran, a compulsive Swede who likes to make a list, shuffles around in his pocket right next to me and reorganizes everything in his pockets like he usually does. Goran finally settles on his mattress. Phil is asleep, his arm stretched over the edge of his blanket, and the phone is still in his hand. We are just waiting for the dinner to be ready.

I broke deep into the dystopian future world of my book when Richard rushes through the door screaming:
"I dropped my phone in the shit!"

"Bek will help me get it out," Richard yells as he leaves the room.

Bek is our local support guide. He is younger, probably in his late 20s, and more interested in talking to the ladies than to lead or support much, but he is useful for rescuing toilet phones.

Phil can not resist watching the action. He gets up, shoves his feet into his flip-flops and goes outside. Goran and I look at each other and shrug, and no one feels compelled to wallow in a stinking, deep hole of literal dung.

About an hour later I hear Richard and Phil coming laughing through the door of the guest house. A few minutes later they are in our room, Richard triumphantly holds up his smartphone.

"It still works!" he says. He explains how he and Bek used a long pole with a spoon at the end to retrieve it.

Richard and Bek celebrate their successful iPhone call. Picture about Vanessa Nirode

"That's a deep hole," he says. "The only reason we could even see it," he continues, "was that it was jammed into a pile of … something … and it was lighted when I accidentally brushed the screen with the rod."

He complains about the foul odor emanating from the phone, a smell that, although the phone was working properly, had never quite faded.

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The next morning we set off to climb another 500 meters into the mountains. We only have about 30 kilometers to get to the next campsite. Richard, Goran and I stop in a small cafe on the way out of town. The place has decent coffee and is even more desirable – reliable and fast Wi-Fi. Most of the villages and towns we pass through have at least one café with excellent Wi-Fi. They are easy to spot as there are always a few people hanging on their phones near the entrance.

We do not talk to each other, but drink a coffee and "talk" with our phones. We will be out of signal for at least a week when we leave this place as we cross Tajikistan and some of the highest mountain passes in the world.

We all have a few apps on our phones that we use regularly. WhatsApp keeps everyone in touch. Google Translate is another popular app from us. Just download the language you want to translate without Wi-Fi connection. One of Google Translate 'coolest features is to "read" text in a foreign language. With the app camera, you can hold your phone from a menu, and the app automatically translates the words as you move the phone. These features are now also integrated with Google Lens and Google Assistant if you have an Android phone. On the iPhone, you can get it by downloading Google Assistant.

Google is really and really everywhere. They have been able to reproduce pretty much the whole world. Even this remote Kyrgyz village was mapped by Google. We use Google Maps to travel through cities and towns on closed days. Google Maps offers the ability to download directions and maps for offline use. The GPS connection of your smartphone also allows you to view your location on a map when you are not connected to the Internet. You can not navigate if you did not download the card before you went offline. You can, however, see where you are and the roads around you. We even used Booking.com to arrange private rooms for rest days.

For directions and maps, we use a GPS device from Garmin. These work without Wi-Fi or cellular networks and instead connect to satellites. You load a route into your device in advance, then follow it as you pedal (usually a purple line). There was no time when satellite coverage was not available.

Another cyclist-driven tool is the RidewithGPS app ( Android | iOS), which lets you plan and create routes. With RidewithGPS, you can save your routes and transfer them to many different file types compatible with versions of Garmin and other GPS navigation computers. Our guides have mapped our daily itineraries for RidewithGPS. The app works without service on your phone as long as your device has GPS. You can also pair most Garmin versions with mobile phones via Bluetooth.

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We continue climbing through the Pamir Mountains and cross the border into Tajikistan Murghab is the only village in the eastern half of the Autonomous Region Gorno-Badakhshan in Tajikistan. At 3,650 meters, it is also the highest in the country. The Pamirs generally have no cell service. The land is largely undeveloped and we go three to five days at a time, without passing through houses and settlements. The day before we arrive in Murghab, our tour guide Andreas tells us that he now hears that the city now has a 3G tower – a big step from their previous edge connection. At this time we were good for seven to ten days unconnected. We all look forward to a rest day in the hotel and a solid service to check with our loved ones.

Richard, Goran and I are excited about 3G to buy Tajik SIM cards. The market is a few rows of these large shipping containers that have been converted into stores, the handy store near the entrance. We can easily buy SIM cards, but as soon as we turn our phones on we come across bad connections.

We return to the mobile phone shop. They say, "Yes, there is a 3G tower that is broken at the moment."

In such times, I realize that the total absence of a connection is better than a weak or spotty one. There is something strangely comforting in this circle, crossed out with a cross that means no service. If there is a weak or fluctuating service, human nature tends to try in vain to load an app or send a photo – creating all sorts of anxiety and frustration if your connection does not let you get anywhere.

We have difficulty with this Edge connection for one and a half days. One of the tasks I'm trying to do is book a better room in Dushanbe. I try for hours in vain. Then I finally realize that I can make an old-fashioned phone call and talk to a manager in the hotel.

On our last night there, we all gather at tables and eat the hotel chicken, which turns out to be over half of us is sick, miraculously sending all our emails and uploading pictures.

The 3G tower is being repaired just in time for our departure.

The day we climb out of the mountains is one of the best days, mainly because I can breathe completely again. Helen, our travel specialist from the UK, calls her "Oxygen Appreciation Day". After this rest day, we continue our drive from the mountains towards Dushanbe and the border with Uzbekistan.


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