It’s a little bit tragic, I know, but the way my world is these days, I feel naked without a mobile phone (or Internet access). That’s why Number 1 on my To Do list for when I got to Samoa was easy – get connected!
I figured it should be simple enough. I keep hearing how EVERYBODY in Samoa is packin’ a mobile phone now; even the little old ladies in the kuaaaaaa as villages sport Nokias and Alcatels and somehow get the money to top up their credit, too.
And then I got advice from people: Go with Digicel. Everyone’s on Digicel, and calling/texting from the same network is cheaper.
A friend who knows what kind of geek I am, though, suggested Bluesky – because they have a great data plan. Your Internet connection with Bluesky “just goes on and on,” apparently.
I immediately got myself to the Bluesky office in Tufuiopa and – because I didn’t know how long I’d be in Samoa – bought myself a cheapo Huawei smartphone, on special that month for ST$220.
Oh wait… let me rewind my story a little bit to explain that at first I wanted to use my own mobile phone from New Zealand. Couldn’t I just change the SIM card and get on Bluesky?
Sadly, my HTC One V is locked in to NZ’s Telecom Network. Booooo.
So off I go with my new little Huawei – new to me, but with a user interface that’s so retro, working with it feels like I’m playing Pacman after several years in Code of War land. (No, I’m not a gamer. Just saying…)
Because I also purchased $10 tala credit, it didn’t take long to receive my first couple of texts: “Thank you for topping up,” and “You now have 250 MG Free data for the Weekend”. Score!
Never mind that when I’m in geek mode (working on my sites, updating software, downloading movies useful free apps), I can easily consume 250 MB in, like, an hour. I found, though, that the CPU on my cheapo, retro Alcatel is way too slow to handle anything more active online than checking emails and social pages anyway, so I guess it works out.
I soon learned about another great deal from Bluesky – the “$5 for 55” special that’s been on since I got here almost two months ago. I can call home to NZ for 55 minutes and only pay $5 tala, which has been a lovely tool for keeping homesickness at bay. I do believe the deal applies to calling Australia and the USA as well.
I only found the glitch in my Bluesky conversion when I texted my shiny new number out to all my local friends and family.
Everybody really is on Digicel.
It’s not a huge glitch for me. It just means that I pay a little more to text or call all my Digicel people… and that the on-network Bluesky specials (i.e. free credit to call / text any Bluesky phone etc.) expire largely unused.
But when I found myself still in Samoa after a couple of weeks, I went ahead and got myself a Digicel SIM card as well.
You know what? Next time I’m in Samoa with 2 SIM cards, I need to make sure I have a dual SIM phone. This business of taking out the Bluesky SIM and replacing it with the Digicel SIM, then (when that runs out of credit or if I’m waiting for a call from someone who only knows my Bluesky number) switching back to the Bluesky SIM – is kind of stupid.
It also looks like all the calls and texts people make to me on one network’s number are lost when I’m using the other network’s SIM, i.e. if I’m using the Bluesky SIM, all the calls and texts made to my Digicel number are lost. I don’t know what made me think (hope) they’d get held for me somewhere and delivered the next time I’m using that network’s SIM. Duh.
By the way, I also learned that you don’t get any of the ‘missed call’ messages or texts sent to you while your phone’s battery is dead. I’m not sure if that’s a Samoa network thing or a prepaid plan thing, but it’s frustrating. This cheapo Huawei’s battery life is tiny. Who knows how many exciting, potentially life-changing calls from really important people I’ve missed by now.
Anyway… the first thing I checked out on the Digicel network was, of course, their data plan. They’ve got it set out in a chart. Two tala will give you 40 MB, but that expires in 24 hours (use it or lose it). Pay $5 tala for a 100 MB, valid for 3 days, and so forth. It’s not too bad.
I asked around my family and friends to find out more about why Digicel is so popular.
Well, Digicel was the first mobile phone network in Samoa. When Bluesky (formerly known as SamoaTel, the land-line specialists) joined the cellphone network market, they had to strategically position themselves against the relative monopoly Digicel enjoyed. (If you’re a New Zealander, think of Bluesky as Telecom to Digicel’s Vodafone). So Bluesky is more about offering Internet access and package deals with land-lines, and they even have a new satellite television service now called Moana TV.
Digicel gets to concentrate on providing fun mobile plans and promotions.
Like how, if you don’t have credit, you can still send a ‘please call me’ message to any of your fellow Digicel friends. You can even send a message asking for credit, and if anyone is feeling generous, they can transfer part of their own credit to your phone. (My uncle gets at least one of those texts from random unknown numbers every week.)
Digicel also offers a lot of free texting. Right now, if you send 3 paid texts, you get the rest of the week’s texting (within the Digicel network) free. Also, if you make a 3 minute call during the day, you can talk for free for an hour after midnight – a popular deal amongst school kids, I’ve heard, but not so much for their parents.
If I had more of a social life in Samoa, I would really appreciate the deals Digicel offers, but alas, I’m just a geeky traveler with more contacts overseas than here, so I’ve had my Bluesky SIM in for the last couple weeks – can’t be bothered switching again.
Interestingly, I’ve been continuously online on this phone for the last two weeks, too, and it isn’t affecting my credit at all. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be like that (if not, don’t tell Bluseky) but Internet on this phone really is going on and on…
My mobile phone checklist for the next time I’m in Samoa:
- Bring an UNLOCKED phone
- A dual SIM phone would be great, too
- Make sure the phone is top of the line (I got my eye on the new Samsung S5) with a CPU that can make the most of my “on and on” mobile data
- Samoa uses the same electrical outlet as New Zealand, so I don’t need an adapter, but bring an extra charger (and USB wire) just in case
- Prepare to spend a lot of money on credit; Internet access via phone seems to be more reliable than broadband networks here
Have I missed anything? What’s your mobile phone advice for traveling to Samoa?