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Cell Phones

A lot of people want to know if their American cellphones will work in Penasco, and/or in the surrounding areas on the way down and back up into the US.

Our advice, RENT ONE (CLICK HERE TO RENT A CELL PHONE) to guarantee that you will have coverage. While we hear that some of the phone companies below work in Rocky Point, we have not had any success stories. I can GUARANTEE that Verizon no longer works down in Rocky Point. If you are interested in renting a cell phone for your trip to stay in touch with your "parents" or your new significant other (We recommend giving her/him the wrong number) please here.

The big 3 questions
Q: I already have a cellphone - will it work in Penasco/Sonora?
Q: What cell technologies are supported in Puerto Penasco, San Carlos, and other parts of Sonora?

Will my cell phone work in Sonora?

Yes and no - it depends on a few factors:

Your phone may not work at all
Several major providers - Qwest Wireless, Alltel, Nextel's non-GSM models, to name a few - simply don't work across the border in Sonora. They use different technologies and frequencies, and/or they may require activation to work on the Mexican cellular network. Many older (non-triband) phones simply won't work, period.

Rules of thumb:

Cingular and T-Mobile - yes, they can work in Penasco - but you have to call your provider and activate international service ahead of time (1 week ahead is a good idea).

With Cingular, if you are in Penasco and want to reach a US number, dial 001 + (areacode) + (number). When you're in Penasco and calling a Penasco number, you just dial 638 + number.

If you're calling 1-800 numbers in the United States from Mexico, there's something funky about that too - you must dial "001-880" and the 7-digit number you want to reach (the last 7 digits of the 1-800 number).

Verizon's roaming partner switched technologies in Summer of 2007, and I don't believe any Verizon phones work at all in Puerto Penasco now.

Call your cellphone provider and ask about SIM cards - some readers have emailed to tell me that certain providers and phones will take new SIM's that let you use your phone in Mexico. I'm trying to compile some info on exactly which models and providers have this capability.

With all other cellular phones ...

Your phone may 'roam'
... but not recieve incoming calls or text messages. This phone is essentially useless if someone has to get in touch with you in an emergency, since it becomes an 'outgoing only' phone.

Your phone may 'roam'
... but your cellular plan may hit you with excessive roaming charges. We've seen Mexican/International roam rates as high as $3/min (US). And again, depending on your provider, text messaging and data services may not function.

Your phone may 'roam' in analog mode
... but this is an amazingly bad thing to do. It is both expensive, eats up your battery, and isn't a 'secure' method of communicating.

There is good news! If you have a GSM phone - or one of the newer quad-band PDA's like a blackberry - it will probably work just fine! (See below, under 'cell technologies.') Depending on your GSM provider, you may have to activate your phone for out-of-country roaming, and there may be some fees associated with that activation. Again, it depends on your carrier. Refer to our compatability matrix, below.


Q: What cell technologies are supported in Puerto Penasco, San Carlos, and other parts of Sonora?

Here is a compatability matrix we have assembled:

Provider Technology Works in Sonora? Rate(s) Notes
Alltel CDMA No    
Cingular (&AT&T) TDMA/GSM Yes, w/ activation 49 ¢/min, 20 ¢/txt Int'l activation fees vary. 72 hour activation process.
Cricket CDMA No    
Nextel iDEN No   Unconfirmed reports of GSM offerings from Nextel
Qwest Wireless CDMA No    
Sprint CDMA (Some GSM/GPRS models) Only if phone is triband/GSM capable: i.e. a Treo   VERY phone specific - Int'l activation required, $4/mo
T-Mobile (& VoiceStream) GSM Yes, w/ activation $1.49/min Int'l activation free, high rates
Verizon CDMA - triband(?) Verizon == dead in Penasco Verizon == dead in Penasco Verizon == dead in Penasco
Virgin Mobile CDMA No    

This compatability is constantly changing.


 

Non-scientific personal report(s)

On my last trip, I had coverage from Tucson to Kitt Peak with my Alltel service. After Kitt peak, it hit spotty Analog Roam mode until we were in Sonoyta, then on into Penasco, and then stayed on Analog Roam.

My companion's T-mobile serice, however, was kaput after Kitt Peak, and that was it.

Many people have their phones set 'not to roam' in non-digital areas, and sometimes just un-setting this mode is the trick to getting service. You will, however, pay dearly for it, as Analog Roaming in a foreign country is not cheap, no matter what plan or service you have.

06/01/2007 - Alltel used to have some coverage in Nogales/Sonoyta, but as of 06/01/2007 they sent their customers a notice that they were killing their coverage in these areas. Gee, thanks Alltel.

 


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