Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bahamas Communication circa 2017

I've done posts on communication and connectivity in the Bahamas before, but when we arrived here this year things were so different that it warrants a new review of it here. There is still a lot of good information in the old posts and you can read them here and here.

First of all, communication needs vary from cruiser to cruiser. Since we have three daughters and nine grandchildren, communication and connectivity are the key to the success of our cruising. No data to see grandbaby pics and read about the latest escapades, and this cruising life will be short-lived. We also enjoy writing in this blog and posting photos, all of which take data.

Second, our connectivity is almost 100% through our phones. We are rarely where there is wifi and when there is wifi it is rarely fast enough to do even the most simple browsing tasks. We don't have an extender because we're finding that most wifi routers are password protected now and the ones that aren't are so abysmally slow that they're no worth using. In the Bahamas, restaurants and marinas frequently change their passwords daily to prevent someone coming in once and then using the password while sitting at anchor the rest of the week.

Third, we have Verizon (and have had it since our very first cell phone), and before anybody speaks up about the new unlimited plan that they're offering to compete with T-Mobile, read the fine print. We use almost 100% of our data with our phones tethered to our laptops or our iPads. The unlimited plan only allows 10GB tethered at full speed. After the 10GB, they throttle down the speed to 3G or less. It's right in the program description. Our current plan has enough data and it's full speed the whole amount so we're keeping it. That being said, Verizon is useless to us in the Bahamas because of the cost. You can make and receive texts at a "reasonable" cost, $.50 to send and $.05 to receive. Calls are $1.95 per minute, obviously only for emergencies. Data is $10 per day billed only for the days you use it, up to the limit of your data plan. Again, ridiculous and only for emergencies.

Now that we have the basics out of the way, here's what we found when we got here this year. BTC used to have data cards that you could buy, $30 per 5GB, about the same as US prices. Once a year in late spring they would run a 50% off sale and you could buy enough for your next season. As long as you didn't activate them they would last a year, then once activated they would last 30 days. Not any more. Now there are no more data cards. You buy a sim card, and you buy however many phone minutes you want and a data plan, and you activate it on your phone. $30 for 4GB that lasts 30 days. The 7GB special that they were running is gone now, just in case you heard about that one. Much simpler and less expensive for them in administrative costs, but more expensive for cruisers. When you head to the BTC store, be sure to have your phone with you as well as any special tools required to remove the sim card. You will also need a photo ID and cash. They don't take credit cards in most of the outlying stores. You might also want to bring along a case for your US sim so you don't lose it. Turn your phone off, change the sim, and restart. Next, dial *205#, choose #2 (you have to type it in), choose your data plan, and select #1 to complete the transaction. Be aware that applying a new data plan will delete any old one so don't do this until your data is gone. BTC data does not roll over. The restart your phone. Depending on what phone you have, you might have to go into the settings and change the APN. On my Droid Turbo, it's Settings-More-Cellular Networks-Access Point Names then + to add a new one. The BTC APN s internet.btcbahamas.com. Some phones do this automatically. A word to the wise - be sure to set your apps to never update unless you manually update them. If you choose to update only on wifi and then you use your phone to tether to your tablet, it will perceive that it's on wifi and update. You can lose a ton of data this way. We also get in the habit of turning off the mobile data every time we're done on the internet so that nothing updates while we're not online.

There is a new player in town, Aliv, which offers some different plans, including multiple affordable options that have a phone, minutes, and data. They have towers in all the major cities in the Bahamas, but we weren't sure about their coverage in the outlying areas where BTC is very good so we opted to stay with BTC. The one advantage to the Aliv plan is that the data rolls over if you don't use it.

One of the best new advances for cruiser communication is mrsimcard.com. You can go there and order your sim card and plan while you're still in the States. When you cross into the Bahamas and are in range of a tower, you just change out your sim and you're done. It costs a little extra but it's so completely worth it. Keep in mind that there is no BTC store in West End, and the ones in Foxtown and Green Turtle are only open one day a week. Most of the stores except for Marsh Harbor have very limited hours of operation. I didn't get around to doing that this year but I will never come here again without doing it. Sim cards only last 90 days without use before the number reverts back to the company so you will be buying a new one every season most likely. By the way, mrsimcard.com offers a discount for Active Captain members so join today if you haven't already.

It's worth mentioning here that the Delorme InReach has been a very valuable communication tool for us. The Delorme has two-way texting capability, made easier by the Earthmate app on your phone. It syncs with your contacts so you can send 160 character texts via satellite. There are unlimited preset messages included in the base $24.95 per month fee, and 40 other messages per month. Keep in mind that both outgoing and incoming count against that total so be sure that anyone you send to realizes to keep it to a limited amount. On the presets, you have three preset messages that you can customize both in content and to whom you send them to. We have one saying that we're starting a trip, one saying that all is well, and one saying that we've arrived. They include a link to a map so that the recipients can see where we are. You can also post to Facebook with the messages.

Last, but not least, don't forget the old faithful snail mail. Post cards are plentiful and cheap in the Bahamas and your cubicle-bound friends will appreciate (or hate) you for sending them something to brighten up their walls. Snail mail doesn't quite capture the slowness of it though. A couple years ago I sent post cards to my grandkids and they arrived in St. Louis two weeks after we had arrived back in the States. I believe it took them four weeks to get there.

I will also mention a cruiser friend here who has lots of good ideas on the data savings while traveling. The folks on S/V Odin have a very helpful blog full of practical info. Do a search on their tag "Cheapskates on the Move" and it will bring up the posts, one of which is some exciting news about Netflix.

If you have any other ideas or experiences about communications and connectivity in the Bahamas, please post them in the comments. It's an ever-changing subject so all input is helpful.

3 comments:

Robert Sapp said...

If you were doing extended cruising, I'd advise you to dump the Verizon phones and pick up Google phones that run under Project Fi. When we jumped from Florida to the Bahamas, we just kept sending and receiving texts, making calls, and using data just like we were in the US. Our Project Fi data is good in over 120 countries for no additional cost. Texts are free (sending and receiving). We do pay an extra 20 cents a minute for voice calls when in the Bahamas, but the occasional 10 minute call is worth the extra 2 bucks when a text just won't do. Whenever we're in range of a BTC tower we can check Storm and email and look up what the whale we just saw was. :-) And our Delorme InReach fills in the gaps when there's no tower in range.

s/v Odin the Wanderer said...

Thanks for the mention! Love following your adventures in the Bahamas!

Robin Scurr said...

A 2nd thumbs up for Google Project Fi ... I've used it in the USVI and BVI while sailing. Simple, easy to understand terms/costs. HotSpot included, data-only SIMs at no monthly fee, no contract, suspend service at will, cancel any time. Cross an international border? No problem, your Fi service is the same. (I sound like a commercial!) And at $10 per GB, not much more than the Bahamas 4 GB SIM, but without the expiration/limits. Also, you CAN use other handsets with Fi. I put mine in my wife's carrier-unlocked iPhone 6S and, to my surprise, it worked just fine! I even tried a data-only SIM in her phone and it worked, too! No voice service or SMS, of course, but iMessage/Facebook/Instagram/navigation etc. The only catch is you have to ACTIVATE the SIM in a Nexus or Pixel ... use a friends phone.