Mobile Phone Woes

Ann & I have the same mobile phones which we have had for a few years. We wanted to use international roaming in South America but when we first arrived there we discovered that we could call land lines and mobiles in Australia but not receive any calls or send or receive text messages. Linda and Dennis D had mobiles with 3 and their phones worked OK. Marg was with Telstra and her phone did not work either.
Last year we travelled around Europe and used our phones there without any problem. However, last year our phones were prepaid so we do not have coverage in all countries (which I was aware of). This year we decided to change our phones to a plan so we would have coverage in all countries.

In Peru I could call back to Australia OK so I used one of our phones to call the Telstra international support centre. If you call using the phone that is the problem, there is no charge for the call. The line quality was terrible and I had difficulty hearing them. I was put on hold for up to 10 minutes at a time. Every time I got transferred to a higher support level I had to fully repeat the problems and was asked the same things to check like:

  • The SMS centre number in your phone (+61418706700). This is a number setting in your phone used for text messaging. I use text messaging all the time in Australia so why would this have changed?

  • Did I have the correct international prefix. I have been overseas before and knew all this. We just leave the international prefixes on numbers in the phones.

  • Did I enable international roaming before I left Australia. Yes, Yes, Yes. After checking, every support level assured me that international roaming was enabled.

  • Have I turned my phone off and on. Yes, Yes, Yes a million times.

  • Did I have a good signal level showing on my phone? Yes, Yes, Yes, otherwise I would not be able to call you on this phone.

  • Was my phone showing the "roaming" icon? Yes, Yes, Yes, otherwise I would not be able to call you on this phone.

My phone worked in Australia and overseas last year so I thought some of these questions were a waste of time. After I got back to Australia I found out that the support centre is not run by Telstra, it is a contracted service, so I suspect other mobile phone carriers use this service. I spent about 1.5 hours talking to the support centre, but they never could find anything wrong

Whilst still in Peru, I got so frustrated with the support centre that I found an email address on the Telstra site that I could use. I emailed them the following information:

  • Last year we travelled overseas and used the same phones there with no problem. Thus I am already aware of issues about prefixes before phone numbers etc. I just leave all the numbers in the phone with the appropriate prefix. However, last year our phones were prepaid so we do not have coverage in all countries (which I was aware of). This year we decided to change our phones to a plan so we would have coverage in all countries. Even now, my wife still gets texted special offers from the prepaid area. Is it possible that there is a flag somewhere in the Telstra system saying that we are still on prepaid? That would explain our restricted coverage. Also, the fact that the same phones worked last year OK should eliminate the possibility that the handsets are the problem.

  • We are travelling with a group of people, all from Australia. Five of us have mobiles. Two are with 3 and their phones are working correctly. They roam to the same carriers in Peru as me and my wife. One other lady is with Telstra and is having similar problems to me and my wife. She cannot send or receive texts. Does this not indicate that the carriers in Peru are restricting access to us for some reason?

  • In summary, I believe that our problem relates to the Peru carrier not recognising our phones as able to roam because of some restriction back with Telstra. As I understand it, when I switch on my mobile in another country, the local carrier sends a signal back to Telstra asking if my phone number is allowed to roam and what restrictions I have. Telstra then sends a signal back informing the local carrier what to do. Telstra must be sending something back telling the local carrier to restrict us. If others in our group can roam OK to the same carriers why cannot we?

We did not switch on our mobiles for a few days but when we did they were working. Whoopee! There was a text message asking us to call the support centre but when I did they could not tell me what the problem was - it was just fixed.

In the end our mobiles worked properly in Peru but mine did not work in Argentina where we visited late in our trip. I did not worry about this because Ann's mobile worked OK.

When we got back to Australia, I emailed Telstra with the following questions:

  • What precisely was the problem with our mobile phones that stopped them working?

  • Regarding the Mobile Service Team that Telstra uses (via the number provided in the International Roaming User Guide), is this service owned by Telstra or contracted?

  • In South America, the most comprehensive service provider is a company called "Claro" with coverage in most countries. When we were overseas and our phones were finally working we noticed that we were successfully roaming with Claro on occasions but this company is not listed on the Telstra website as a roaming partner for either GPRS or 3G in Peru. How is this possible?

  • It is possible to set your mobile to manual network selection whereby your mobile scans for the available service providers and provides you a list which you then select from. Whenever we did this, the list of service providers NEVER included Claro. When we selected one of the listed service providers (and the mobile sometimes worked) we noticed later that the roaming had automatically changed to Claro. When the roaming was with Claro (with plenty of service bars) and we again selected manual network selection Claro still NEVER appeared on the list. Can someone explain what is happening here?

  • Following on from question 4, is it possible that Claro needs to be listed on the Mobile phones internal network list? Claro is not listed in our phones (there are hundreds listed). If it does need to be listed, how is it possible to update the network list on ones mobile phone?

  • Finally, after our experience, and rereading the International Roaming User Guide and the tips on the Telstra website I have realised that the information on self troubleshooting is woefully inadequate. There are a lot more things that people can do themselves to isolate the problems even if they are not technically competent. If possible, I would like to assist in updating the information so that others may have a better experience than me. I am now retired but previously worked for Telstra in the Research Laboratories for 39 years. When we had our mobile phone problems, others around us had working mobiles with other companies and were very quick to put Telstra down. This disturbed me as I still have some allegiance to Telstra.

They replied and asked me to contact the support centre. I rang them and the only information I could get out of them was that they could not tell me what the problem with our phones was. When it is determined that a mobile is not roaming correctly they report the problem to a "Network Support Team" who NEVER provide any feedback to the support centre as what the problem was.

If you are going overseas and want to use your mobile here are some suggestions:

Before you leave Australia:

  • Convert all the numbers in your phone that you may need to use to international format. They will still work in Australia.

  • Find out and record the SIM PIN, PUK and IMEI codes for your phone. In the case of Telstra, there is online information on how to retrieve these. If your phone gets stolen, you need to know the IMEI code. If you need to swap SIM cards (see later) you may need this info.

  • Find out and record the make and model of your phone. If you call the support centre, they may ask you this information.

  • Find out how to locate the SMS Centre number in your phone. If text messaging is not working, you will be asked this by the support centre. There is virtually no reason why this number should have changed but they will still ask you to check it. If you don't know where to find this in your phone, they will help you but it takes a long time.

  • If you are on Prepaid, convert to a plan. Prepaid does not work in all countries. Even if the Telstra site show that Prepaid works in the country you are going to, don't assume it will work. When our phones were Prepaid, they worked in some countries and not others, and did not always work in the countries they were supposed to.

  • If your phone is locked and you can unlock it, do it. If you do have problems overseas, swapping SIM cards may not work with locked phones. Also, with an unlocked phone you can purchase a SIM overseas and use it in your phone.

If you are overseas and your phone is not working:

  • Determine if it is roaming or not. If your phone is roaming it will have connected with a foreign carrier and there will a roaming icon displayed on your phone. Even though it is roaming it may still not work.

  • Work out exactly what does and does not work and write it down before you call the support centre. Often, some things work. For example, in my case I could call mobiles and land lines in Australia AND send text messages to the mobile of a lady in our group who was with 3. But nothing else worked.

  • If there are other Australians with you or around you whose phones work, find out the name of the foreign roaming carrier on their phone (it is usually displayed on the phone screen) and the Australian company they are with. This is very useful information that you can hassle the support centre with. In my case, the people with us whose phones worked were roaming with the same foreign carrier as my phone but a different carrier in Australia. This shows that the carrier in the foreign country can roam (and work) with phones from Australia. Make it VERY clear to the support centre that someone else's phone from Australia WORKS with the same foreign carrier as your phone is roaming with.

  • Try putting your SIM card into the slot of a phone that works (you may need to enter your SIM PIN code). If the other phone now works, then your phone may be the problem. This may not work if the other phone is locked to a different provider than your phone.

  • Try putting the SIM card of a phone that works into your phone (you may need the other persons SIM PIN code). If it works, then the problem is most likely to do with your Australian company not allowing roaming in the foreign country. This may not work if the your phone is locked to a different provider than the SIM card from the other phone.

  • Try to send a text message from your phone to your phone. You can do this and it does give an indication if the network is working.

  • If you converted from Prepaid to a plan and have a problem with the phone overseas, advise the support centre that the phone was once Prepaid. I believe that there can be a "flag" lurking somewhere in the network that says your phone is Prepaid and is difficult to remove and the support staff don't check this unless you tell them.