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ICE Pulls a Fast One and Tim Switches to 3G – Big Time!

March 26th, 2010

OK… I give up!

As many folks know, I have been a staunch proponent of the old TDMA cell phones for… well forever! They worked and worked well.  Real workhorses. I hated the GSM phones and I still do.  However, my wifey switched to the new 3G system a few weeks ago, and I was so impressed (we actually had cell phone service in my office between San Jose and the SJO airport!) that I went out and bought one for me.

Now, after testing it and playing with it, I am ready to endorse the new 3G system. I did not order the Internet option as 1. is it too expensive and 2. My Ipod Touch does a far better job and has full wireless. Still… the 3G service is far better than the old GSM system.

If this topic interest you… read on!So what did ICE do now?  Basically, they have been shutting off service arbitrarily to a lot TDMA users.  A LOT! As some of you know, one of my businesses here in Costa Rica rents cell phones to tourists and to long term clients. I have been doing this for about 7 years and we have a large customer base and a lot of cell phones, mostly  TDMA because they work!

Saying that, you can imagine how I felt this past two weeks when our dear, and hopefully soon to be departed, monopoly started playing fast and loose with my TDMA customers!  I was truly honked! Obviously we called ICE and were told, “Huh?  We are having no problems.” ICE sure had better get their customer service s__t together before their competition comes in or it will be bye-bye ICE.

Incredible, La Nacion sure heard about their shenanigans as they wrote at least two articles discussing the service cuts and saying that a lot of people have filed denuncias (like law suits) against ICE.  Not surprising… there are still over 250,000 TDMA customers!

My suspicion is that ICE is having these “issues” to force TDMA users to switch to 3G long before 2011, the year they said TDMA will finally be shut down. My other suspicion is that they will never shut down TDMA as those new 3G phones are very expensive and to make a quarter of a million people (mostly Ticos who cannot just run out and buy a new phone when they want) switch would present a financial hardship to them.

However, their tactic worked with me…

Obviously, I could not sit by while my paying customers had no cell service…. so…. this week I bought all new 3G phones for my business, and that kind folks, was not cheap deal.

I guess I can now advertise that we are the only 100% 3G cell phone rental business in Costa Rica.  The new phones all sport bluetooth and 2 megapixel cameras.

It better work.  Those damned phones cost me a fortune!

41 Responses to “ICE Pulls a Fast One and Tim Switches to 3G – Big Time!”

  1. Janie on March 27, 2010 2:46 am

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the info on ICE. Can people use iPhones in Costa Rica now?


  2. Marcel Pfister on March 27, 2010 5:50 am

    I find it hard to take the term “fast one” in anyhing related to ICE. On the other hand, I am somewhat incredulous as to the bloggers’ resistance to GSM technology. In my former life as a sales and marketing executive, I was travelling all over the world and was rolling my eyes over the slowness of the United States to adapt to an evolving global standard. GSM has served the world well. The US state of Hawaii only ever had a GSM phone network.

    I remember once standing on the border between Oman and the United Arab Emirates and calling my secretary in Zurich, Switzerland on the GSM phone. She thought I was back home, that’s how good and clear the connection was.

    How anybody in their right mind can cling to old-fashioned, analog TDMA technology is simply beyond comprehension. Isn’t it about time to move on?

    Marce M. Pfister
    Uvita, Osa, Puntarenas

  3. Tim on March 27, 2010 3:15 pm

    Your problem is that you are apparently unaware that the GSM system was and is faulty and has been from day one. TDMA was the only system that worked here. PERIOD.

    One ex-president is already jail and a second one is hiding out in Switzerland and faces inquiries about money allegedly paid to him by French company Alcatel. He has thusfar refused to come back to answer the charges.

    The one in jail was convicted, and the US has continuing legal action againt Alcatel for making the bribes.

    More trials are still to be held for others who accepted up top $11 million in bribes.

    The GSM system SHOULD have worked except for the fraud.

    Your thinking is correct, but your knowledge lacks the background.

  4. Trendon on March 28, 2010 7:25 pm

    Personally, I don’t care what system they use so long as I can get my hands on an Android phone with a SIM. I have the Hero, but since the US does everything in a backwards and/or self-serving way, my phone (HTC Hero) does not utilize a SIM, making it useless here.

    As it is, I am scouring eBay or planning on buying an unlocked one on my VISA-clearing trip home.

  5. Janie on March 29, 2010 10:42 am

    With a little research I answered my own question about using iPhones in Costa Rica.

    “Unlocked” and used with a SIM card from a phone purchased in CR the iPhone reportedly works like a charm. But I believe all iPhones in CR to date have been purchased elsewhere.

    I am wondering, however, if it is legal to do this.

    Take care,

  6. Jason H. on March 30, 2010 8:27 am

    I love the new 3G services I did choose to get the internet service on my phone and my wife’s phone, and we are so impressed we cancelled our DSL from ICE and only use the phones for our internet connections.

    I was not here back when the TDMA service was the main service, but I have a friend who got his service shut off after falling behind on his bill while visiting the US for a month, and ICE refused to reconnect the old line for him. This might not be so bad if this was not his main business number for his construction company he had marketed and handed out countless business cards to his clients for the past 6 years.

    The new 3G is awesome, but I am still not a fan of ICE. I would love to see them get some competition.


  7. Tim on March 30, 2010 12:28 pm

    Good point that I forgot to make! If for any reason a TDMA line is suspended, ICE will not reactivate it. More proof that they really want to force everyone to the new 3G syste.

    Glad you are happy with yours…

  8. sanj on March 31, 2010 6:52 pm

    Do you know what the bandwidth usage limitations are for 3G internet? I was waiting for 2 years to get DSL from ICE in Santa Teresa and now had my property manager order the USB 3G internet dongle but am a bit concerned about usage.


  9. Huf on April 2, 2010 12:46 pm

    Can u rent similar card in CR and use your own phone?

  10. Russ on April 2, 2010 5:14 pm

    So if I want to get internet service in CR on way is via 3g? Is the coverage pretty good outside of San Jose? I was thinking of getting a 3g hot spot and using that as a wireless connection at my residence… Does anyone have any experience with this?



  11. Marcel Pfister on April 3, 2010 9:18 am

    I don’t need lectures from an ignorant American about telecommunications technologies.

    Drop that TDMA garbage and move on.

  12. Tim on April 5, 2010 7:25 am

    I do not know of anyone renting a 3G SIM, but a regular GSM SIM can be rented as long as yuo have a quad band, unlocked cell phone.

    Info here: http://www.cellphonescr.com/

  13. Tim on April 5, 2010 7:31 am

    Well it is clear that someone, American or otherwise, needs to lecture you as it is clear that your head is so far up your butt that you cannot even understand technical issues written in basic English. What an arrogant piece of trash (French maybe!) you are to spout off like that.

    Please find another Blog where fundamental intelligence is not required.

  14. Tom on April 5, 2010 11:50 am

    Regarding the iphone…

    Just returned from a 4 week trip – Arenal, Monteverde, Dominical, Corcovado. Free wireless through hotels was ever present, and a jailbroken iphone worked fine with a sim card purchased through telestial.com. I did not want/need to download data over 3G, and that wasn’t possible with this setup, but I had an ’emergency’ phone as well as what was basically an ipod touch.

    Plenty of good wifi – was able to use skype to make calls.

  15. Walter Freeman on April 6, 2010 10:40 am

    Hey Tim, my experience (less the rental company woes) is the same as yours. I have had the TDMA for a year or so and found it to work – sort of. Coverage was spotty in and around my home base of San José de la Montaña but if I stood on one foot and raised one arm, it would work. GSM – foggetaboutit… no signal at all.
    A contractor spent a week at my property and used his cell phone constantly… he did not stand on one foot either. He had 3G.
    Seeing is believing so, about a month ago, I bought the same phone that is in your photo at Play and ICE seamlessly swapped the service (same number). I’m pleased as punch even if the cost of the phone has dropped by about half in the meantime.

  16. Mike on April 17, 2010 11:48 pm

    Now if visitors to Costa Rica could only obtain a phone and number in their own name without being a retirado or pensionado so we wouldn’t have to piggyback on a Costa Rican friend. Or has this impossible dream come true?

  17. Russ on April 25, 2010 4:05 pm

    Does anyone know what the internet options are in Costa Rica (using my computer)? Can you get a 3g connection to hook up to a computer?

    Great Blog…

    Hey Tim,

    Do you have a website or phone number you can send me so I can possibly rent a phone from you when I first arrive?

    Had to comment on our French friend.. Stay in Europe and enjoy the ash.

  18. Tim on April 26, 2010 6:51 am
  19. Raymond in CR on May 4, 2010 6:28 pm

    For everyone reading, this is a game changer for Costa Rica. Here is 1st hand proof.

    This post is 100% true, and I say that because I can’t believe the change in 5 months.

    As I write this, I am sitting on a mountain about 1/2 way between the Pacific Coast of the Nicoya Gulf and Monteverde, 700 meters elevation, and I can see no houses, electricity lines or “lines” of any kind. Just bird, monkeys, and trees forever, I arrived here after a 3 hour horseback ride.

    I am using the ICE 3G USB Modem to access the web in the middle of the jungle/forest, writing this post, on my Mac, with internet access and speed no different then if I was sitting in my office in San Jose. BRB, my cell just rang..(pausing this post for 5 min)

    Now, as amazing as that sounds, here is the part I REALLY am shocked by.

    My iPhone 3Gs (jailbroken, with it’s own ICE 3G chip and basic data plan) just rang and (I swear I am not making this up) it is ICE CUSTOMER SERVICE calling me, a pleasant Tica, to make sure that the upgrade to my 3G from basic to their biggest “unlimited” account ($24 a month) was operating satisfactorily.

    I feel like I am in the twilight zone…, excellent Internet in remote beautiful locations, perfect cell reception, and


    You can now, for all practical purposes, be ANYWHERE in Costa Rica and by on wireless Internet.

    I followed the 3G news and “rollout” in Costa Rica avidly, as I have real estate projects that are not yet “serviced” by any of the higher speed internet companies, and for cells I have had both TDMA and GSM, with the typical (for Costa Rica) bad coverage/outage issues.

    So knowing the excellent potential for 3G both for fast wireless internet and better cell reception (if done correctly) I was 3rd in line at ICE when they 1st released the Internet USB Modem. When it was initially offered, it only had a “basic service” speed.

    Yet I was still able to be on the internet the same day, while riding with a client to Arenal, and I was on my Laptop and Skype talking with his partner in Toronto, with the SUV winding thru the mountains at 60-70kph, and NO coverage problems.

    Now I have the “unlimited” service on the ICE USB modem, and though not really fast by North American standards, it is enough that I can be downloading a movie while on Skype talking with clients 3000 miles away.

    So, I can personally attest that as of May 2010, Costa Rica has excellent 3G cell and mobile internet service, , and they (ICE) are actually implementing pro active customer service.

    This now opens up the other 95% of Costa Rica that could never get “regular” internet, and that shortcoming definitely affected where you could live and work.

    People wanting to move to Costa Rica to enjoy it’s remote beauty and lower prices, but still want/need internet and phone access to the world, are no longer forced to stay in the more populated (and less picturesque) areas.

    So like I said, this is a game changer for Costa Rica.


  20. Tim on May 23, 2010 12:18 pm

    I get the usual email from idiots who say the Central America Free Trade Agreement only hurts Costa Ricans and helps US business.

    Tell that to you and the zillions of people experiencing better customer service because ICE will soon have competition and are seeing the vision! Many more changes coming because of that agreement and I have yet to see any bad ones.

  21. Donny on June 13, 2010 3:06 pm

    Hi Tim,

    Thank you for the info on this blog! I really appreciate the time and effort to answer these questions about Costa Rica.

    Anyway, I was wondering if a CDMA service provider is available there. Also, my friends develop low cost GSM access points and we are planning to expand in Costa Rica if there’s a market for it.

    Thank you!

    Donny Gabriel

  22. Rebeca on June 14, 2010 8:38 pm

    Hi Tim,
    I’m married to a tico and I am Puerto Rican. We are moving to CR in July. I was wondering if you could recommend a cell phone—prepaid, that we could purchase here in the USA that would work in CR. I know that you recommend a 3G but I don’t know what that is or what company I could purchase such phone.

    I also want to let you know that your site is very informative. I also like things upfront and not sugar coated. Thanks for this site.

  23. Tom in Portland on June 15, 2010 1:52 am

    ICE must be in cahoots with Comcast! Sounds like they are reading the same business plan. Cause your customer grief and then say you knowing about it! Actually, if I didn’t know better, I would call this the “Wall Street” system. Deny, deny, deny while they still have their hand in your pocket taking your cash!

  24. Tim on June 15, 2010 7:23 am

    Prepaid phones from the USA will not work here. As your husband in Tico, just have him buy a phone when he gets here.

    If that does not work for some reason, see http://www.cellphonescr.com

  25. Guy on June 17, 2010 8:14 pm

    You need a cell phone that operates at 1800MHz GSM and/or 3G at 850 MHz. As far as I know it doesn’t matter where the phone came from originally as long as it works at those frequencies. It also needs to be unlocked, that is, not be tied to a specific carrier. You can then get a pay-as-you go 3G SIM card on presentation of your passport or other valid ID at some cell phone shops. You do not need to be a resident for this option. You do if you want a contract deal from ICE.

  26. tom on July 4, 2010 4:14 pm

    I happen to love the 3G. I work as a guide for student travel in Costa Rica and I have been able to use my 3G phone as a modem on my netbook and keep parents back home updated on how their child is doing.

  27. Kristen on August 3, 2010 10:26 pm

    Quick question-I am trying to text someone in CR from the states using freetext.com -however, ICE, 3G, TDMA and GSM are not listed (Beeline GSM and Plus GSM are listed). Do you have any idea what cell carrier I would look under?

    Thanks 🙂

  28. Tim on August 18, 2010 8:56 am

    ICE is still the only company and SMS is just not available for the majority of US carriers.

  29. casa de ventanas on August 31, 2010 4:25 pm

    see “tim’s” post above about the 3g service and the remote locations. i am following up on that with a twise. WIFI router! after much runaround to obtain the “illimitado internet up to 1Mbps” service from ICE (typo on their website, not 1GB service), we have it up and running on the HUWAEI E1556 modem they sold us for $44. the sim card slapped in the modem and you have 3g wifi (that seems to fluctuate between 300kbps to 800kbps). but it’s unlimited download, $24 a month and is pretty reliable. at the casa we are able to video skype pretty darn good. i am hopeful that the speed will pick up since our data card says 95% signal strength on 3g. also, the most amazing part is that we were able to configure the “aluratek cdm530am” hotspot router to work. it is 120v a/c with a built in lithium ion battery. so during the recurring ICE power outages the only two things in your house that will work will be your laptop and WIFI router (at least for a few hours). from what i understand, the 3g coverage is pretty extensive in CR now, so this option for internet seems to be a pretty outstanding options for those of us in the “outback”. jay

  30. Pierre on September 8, 2010 12:30 am

    Tim, I dunno why you have to insert slices of baloney in the comments about the Central America Free Trade Agreement but I suggest you visit the CIA World Factbook (no, it’s not French): https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cs.html and compare Costa Rica to it’s neighbors. Social democracy & state monopolies is not all bad as internet penetration & prices, electricity rates & coverage, drinkable water & coverage, etc, etc is much better here.

    I know it’s next to impossible for an American to understand with your fixation on competition instead of pooling resources together but looking at your welfare system, health system, education system, transportation system, etc. compared to Canada & Europe… well frankly, it stinks!

    Competition in telecommunications means private enterprise will go for the cream & dense markets & will leave to ICE to bring a line to the remote campasino, etc.

    And not to forget that the profits will be exported instead of being for the benefits of all the Ticos.

    I’m tired of Americans criticizing the roads, services, etc. You forget that there is only 4 million people here to pay for everything & they earn a lot less. So it’s quite admirable what they achieved considering and no, it was not done by big private corporations & the every man for himself philosophy.

  31. Pierre on September 8, 2010 12:40 am