How iPhone works in Mexico (and elsewhere overseas?)

Since I’m on my honeymoon, I told myself, my wife, and Dennis that I wouldn’t be writing much until my return. But I wanted to share an interesting discovery with you now.

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We’re honeymooning on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico, and of course, we took a couple of iPhones along. So I now have some answers as to whether and how the iPhone works internationally—for AT&T customers. And I also better understand a few things about U.S. service for the iPhone.

 

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You’ll notice on the screenshot above that iPhone comes up with the word “Movistar” rather than the AT&T name. That’s actually one of two different networks it’s been roaming on in Mexico. Within the very same hotel complex, we’ve seen the iPhone switch multiple times from the Movistar network to another one, called Mx Telcel GSM.

 

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The interesting thing about iPhone’s display of the Mx Telcel GSM name is how it attempts to accommodate the carrier’s longer title. Certain screen refreshes lead to the name scrolling in the limited space of the upper left part of the screen, before becoming and remaining “Mx…” It looks like Apple has enough space up there to keep the full name Cingular (with variable-width letters) or its equivalent, but will shorten other names when they exceed a certain width limit.

 

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Data services using EDGE on both networks are markedly slower than they are on AT&T’s recently upgraded EDGE network. In fact, I’d go so far as to guess that the reason David Pogue and others griped so much about the EDGE speeds of their pre-release iPhones was that they didn’t know or believe that AT&T’s data network upgrades were about to take place. Over here, web pages and e-mails take a lot longer to load, as does anything else that’s data dependent. We’ve also found the Google Maps feature to be pretty unreliable at serving map art, whether satellite or drawn, for local locations.

 

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We’ve also more than occasionally encountered this “No Service” banner. In all the times I’ve used iPhone in the United States, I’ve never had this come up, thanks most likely to AT&T’s coverage. Obviously, when you lose service, the phone can’t do much more than play back stored content, and let you fool around with the interface.

Generally, though, the experience has been very similar to using iPhone in the States. Call quality has been basically unchanged, but with a super-cool added perk: “International Assist” mode. As found in the Settings > Phone menu, “International Assist automatically adds the correct prefix to US numbers when dialing from abroad.” My existing contacts can be called without any hassle—iPhone just dials them properly. At one point, I did see a message pop up about unavailability of Visual Voicemail, telling me that I needed to call into a standard voicemail box to retrieve messages, but the Visual version seems to be working now; I don’t know if I’ve missed any messages, though. SMS messages definitely work. And e-mail seems to be working flawlessly, though slow, everywhere I go.

Based on what I’ve experienced here, my feeling is that Apple’s deals with various international telecom partners may be complicated not only by its demands for certain profits, but also certain network performance guarantees that some companies might find hard to swallow. Visual Voicemail, speedier overall EDGE performance, and perhaps some tweaks to boost connections to Google and YouTube hosted services might all be required in order to make the iPhone experience special for customers. It’ll be interesting to see whether iPhone performance quality changes once it officially comes to Mexico, and other countries.

Back to my honeymoon. See y’all on the other side. 🙂