Tuesday, March 10, 2015

H2O Wireless - getting a nano SIM for your upgraded phone - and keeping your old H2O number.

H2O Wireless is a rock bottom ultra-cheap AT&T MVNO. We use it for the 3 kids and their iPhones, with very minimal data services (Find Friends, email, Find My Phone — everything else is more locked down than even Emily and I).
Child #2 costs us about $40 a year - the minimum to keep his account open. He doesn’t talk or text much and is almost always on WiFi. He plays games. #1 costs about $10 a month — he does SMS, iMessage, and a few other apps. His data usage is primarily Apple’s utterly mysterious “iTunes Accounts”.
#3 runs through $10-20/month — she might end up on our AT&T plan. Lots of texting.
Our total child cellular service bill with H2O is about $25-$30/month. Hard to beat for 3 kids. In theory there are no data services with the H2O per minute plan, but we installed the H2O Profile and we get “4G” data. (Though on #2’s i5 if I enable LTE the tower boots us off the network)
Of course there’s a downside to the low end of the network. Although H2O’s web site has improved significantly over the past few years, service can be tricky to get. Some things are hard.
Things like … getting a Nano SIM so my son could go from a dying 4 to a used 5 [2].
The first time I called H2O Support (1-800-643-4926) I was told I could use the number transfer request screen and transfer the number from H2O to H2O, providing a fresh SIM number and an IMEI. Warning: this does not work (at least, not entirely, and not for us).
On a second call I was told that only H2O reps can do the transfer. You have to buy a fresh H2O Nano SIM and call them with the “ActFast” code. They will then try to activate the phone with the new SIM. Sometimes it works, but for some numbers/SIMs it doesn’t. (Life at the low end.)
In our case I ordered an H2O “Smart SIM” on Amazon for 0.01 [3]. I called support with the SIM in the phone; surprisingly there was no wait. The support person was able to activate the phone, interestingly he didn’t need the IMEI. The initial signal was very weak, he told me to “dial”  ##21# — that supposedly requests service from the tower. It did seem to boost the signal.
I’d already installed the H2O profile, but I deleted the old one and reinstalled. I found he could get “4G” data (not bad), but when I tried to enable LTE the tower cut us off. (H2O says per-minute plans get no data, so I can’t complain.)
After the transition the web site says #2’s balance is intact. Which is pretty good, because after years of paying for the number with minimal use he has quite a nice balance.

[1] not backed up by the way, so you need to reinstall if you do a restore

[2] I actually cut down his old Mini-SIM to nano-size and it worked, but I’ve never been able to get data on his SIM. So I wanted a fresh Nano.

[3] I’ve ordered several Amazon SIMs. The first time I did it I assumed it was a scam. It doesn’t seem to be, I think the sellers get money from H2O and the like every time a SIM is activated. They’re $15 from the H2O site.

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