Phone and WiFi in the Abacos, Bahamas
May 11, 2013
Since we will be here for ~3 months we have been investigating and experimenting with the communication options here.
Phone: You can purchase a SIM card for an unlocked GMA phone from Batelco for $14.95. You can purchase GMA phones from them also (~$20-$40 for a non-smartphone.) We went to the Batelco office in Marsh Harbour. You can add airtime (voice calls) and data (internet & email) to your phone. You can buy airtime cards (voice calls only) in $20 denominations and 1Gig data cards (email and internet) for $30 (the day we were there we got the $30 1Gig data cards for $20, they were on sale). To load the airtime or data, you just dial a # from your smartphone (once the Bahamian SIM card is installed), then enter the unique # on the card, and the balance on your phone is updated.
Update 6/21/13: You can add airtime to your phone on the Batelco website if you have registered your SIM card with them.
If you bring a GMA phone that is not unlocked, we hear you can get it unlocked in Marsh Harbour for ~$60. We opted to have ours unlocked by Cellcorner.com for ~$30. They will email you a unlock code.
We did not see any options from Batelco to make your phone a hotspot. But while we were in Lake Worth I found this Android app PDANet that will allow you to tether your phone to your computer OR make your phone a hotspot. We tried it on both our phones, the wireless hotspot and tethering (USB connected) worked on my AT&T Samsung Galaxy II, but the tethering was all we could get to work on George’s Boost Mobile Samsung Galaxy II phone. So in theory, you could buy data for your phone and then use an app to tether it to your computer so you could get on the internet on your computer. However, we are finding that 1Gig doesn’t go very far! See *
Having a phone has already come in handy. We have used it a few times to call home and to call locally here in the Bahamas. Roaming rates on your US phone can cost up to $2-3 a minute, while the rates here to the states (depending on when you call) are closer to .50c a minute.
WiFi: There are 2 main providers of WiFi here in the Abacos, Out Island Internet (OII) and Bahamas WiMax. Their rates are very similar (~$15 a day, ~$100 a month, ~$200 3 months).
The key is to get a good connection to their hotspots on the islands. In December we purchased an “IslandTime System” (high gain antenna) from Island Time PC at the SSCA Gam in Melbourne. We purchased our own router, but you can purchase one from them also. The router allows us to use all of our devices on board (2 computers, 2 phones & 1 Ipad.) We can easily see hotspots from > a mile away. We occasionally find unlocked hotspots, but it seems these days, most folks have theirs secured.
We are experimenting with an AT&T hotspot mobile MiFi box that I bought on Amazon. I thought it was unlocked, but it wasn’t, so we paid ~$26 to have it unlocked by Cellcorner.com. To get it to access Batelco services, you have to purchase SIM Card for $14.95, then purchase 1Gig Data Cards ($30). In order to get the data applied to the SIM Card, you have to put the SIM card in a phone, load the data card, then put the SIM card back into the box. * But it turns out this may not be a good option for us. We have been using it for 3 days now and have already used .5Gig. This could get pricey! We use the internet a lot for email, blog posting, uploading photos, surfing the internet, checking weather, etc. What we may do is go ahead and purchase 2-3 months from OII or WiMax and use the MiFi box as a backup.
- We anchored in Red Bay at Water Cay. We were between Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay and could physically see both of them, but could not get OII or WiMax, but we were able to use the MiFi Box because we could get cell service.
- Once we hit 100% on the first Gigabyte on the Mifi Box, we received a message from Batelco on the box that we had hit 100% and that they would be slowing down the service. The service definitely slowed down, almost unusable! I added another 1 Gigabyte and it did not speed back up! We didn’t try to fix it since we think this isn’t a good solution for us.
Here is what worked for us…
First know where you are going to go and verify that Batelco, OII and WiMax will offer service there. If the services will be available:
- Bring a unlocked GSM phone
- Purchase a Batelco SIM Card $14.95, then add air time
- Optionally add data time (email & internet)
- Optionally try a “app” for your smartphone (i.e. Android app PDANet) to make your phone a hotspot (note: we have not tried this in the Bahamas, but it worked in Lake Worth)
- Get a high gain antenna and router (i.e. Island Time PC)
- Purchase OII or WiMax WiFi (the longer the duration, the more cost effective) Updated 5/25/13: In the future we would select WiMax over OII… OII requires us to continually re-login and WiMax didn’t.
Grateful for it all…