I have recently been in Canada and wanted to use my iPad whilst I was travelling around.

I was hoping this would just be a case of popping into a Telecom store for a micro-SIM card and paying some money.

However, it wasn't anywhere that easy, mainly due to a great deal of misinformation supplied by Telecoms staff - it's not as if the iPad is that new anymore now either!

Canada has three operators supplying mobile broadband as far as I can tell: Rogers, Bell and Telus, and each one told me that I had no chance of getting online during my trip.  This was partly because some wanted a contract but mainly because they said that I needed a Canadian credit card or bank account to get a pre-paid data package.

Going to an Apple store in Vancouver also didn't help - at first anyway.  After speaking to about eight different people I was about to give up but went back to the Apple store and was lucky enough to speak to someone who had come across the problem before and knew a workaround.

In Canada, supermarkets sell pre-paid Mastercard or Visa cards. You can use these when you phone up to pay for your data.

So, here is my tourists' guide to setting up 3G Internet on your iPad:

  • Go to an Apple store and ask for free micro-SIMs. I went for a Bell one as they seemed to have the best data allowance.
  • Go to a "Shoppers" supermarket and pay $55CD for a pre-paid $50 credit card (hey, it costs money to buy money!)
  • Realise you've forgotten to bring the little pointy widget that is needed to remove your iPad SIM.
  • Borrow a pointy widget (I used an ear ring) and put your new Canadian SIM into your iPad.
  • Connect to iTunes to download your new carrier settings. You did bring a netbook away with you with iTunes on, didn't you?!  If not, you will have to go to an Apple store and beg for assistance.  This is a terrible design by the way, to make the iPad a viable International device the carrier settings should just get downloaded automatically once you put the SIM in.
  • Connect to a web page and you should get taken to your carrier's payment page, containing a number to call.  Make a note of this number! With Bell, once I shut down the page I couldn't get it back again.

The following instructions are specific to Bell Telecom, so may not be exactly right for Telus or Rogers:

  • Phone Bell, and explain you want to activate an iPad micro-SIM.
  • They will ask for your iPad's Cellular Data Number, which is found under Settings->General->About.  However, for Bell you just get "unknown". This isn't a problem though, give them your IMEI number instead (found in the same place).
  • They will then transfer you to the their Activations department, which opens during EST time and closes at 9pm. This means that if like me you call late in the day in Canada they will have closed (great, another day without data!)
  • Once through to Activations, my experience improved drastically. The Bell person I spoke to was knowledgable and friendly. He took all my details and assured me everything would work perfectly. They have to say it takes up to eight hours to get online, but he told me in practise it is more like twenty minutes.  Ten minutes after the call I was up and running!

So, what is Bell 3G reception like in Canada?

In general, it's about as good as I'd hoped.  I had access near any reasonably large town, and in a lot of smaller towns too.  Where it falls down is in the mountain roads between settlements.  As a tourist though you'll likely be travelling along such roads to get to National Parks etc.  So, don't plan to be doing any emailing during these times!

As an aside, wi-fi access is excellent in Vancouver, and is free at many hotels, coffee houses and restaurants.

Also, the combination of GPS + Google Maps was invaluable to us throughout the trip, saving time and gas.

Here are a few obligatory holiday snaps:

Lake LouiseWe kayaked on Lake Louise and then trekked towards the glacier in the background.

Walking on Athabasca Glacier

Wild ground squirrel.

These little chaps are just too cute...

Eagle at a raptor show.

A wild black bear that I was lucky enough to come pretty much face to face with.
Sadly it stayed behind the bushes and my compact camera couldn't focus properly.
Bitter lesson learned - don't save luggage weight by not packing an SLR camera!

No problem photographing this big fellow, but he wasn't wild.


Finally, if you are travelling around places of interest, I recommend the free Wikihood app (also works on iPhone). It uses your current location to provide you with Wikipedia articles about places near you. This is much cooler than it sounds...

Written by Celerity Design, on September 20, 2010

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