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Cellular Coconut Telegraph: Bahamas LTE

Matt's Musings
One of the things we “worried” about coming to the Bahamas was the cell phone coverage. We knew we could get BTC (Bahamas cell phone company) service, we knew that there were towers near the settlements, and we knew that it would be good enough to check the weather and get emails. We didn’t expect much more than that. I say “worried” because it wasn’t a huge concern for us, more of a curiosity. At one point, we thought about teaching online courses from the boat, but not having been here we didn’t know if the connection would be reliable enough to commit to official work like that. 

A lot of people we have met (our age) out here are working in some way online. They are either employees doing some form of telecommuting, business owners routinely checking in on the goings on at the office or self-employed online “can be anywhere” types. It is very possible and easy to do. I don’t actually know how you get those jobs, but people are doing it, it’s amazing, and we're jealous.

When we arrived in Bimini one of our first stops was the BTC office, easy to find since they seem to always be right under the 200+ foot tall BTC tower. We have unlocked cell phones, so we just got one prepaid SIM card. If you want a whole new phone (if yours is still locked) then you can buy it there too. The SIM card was around $15, and then you put some money on account from which you can purchase talk time and data.

US cellular companies “lock” a phone to their network when you purchase the phone. The cost of the phone is built into the contract (that’s why the phones are relatively cheap). When you’re contract is up, it’s up to you to get the phone unlocked. My iPhone was AT&T and there was a simple website where I put in the request and they did the rest.  In order to use a US cell phone, it must be an unlocked GSM model (sorry, CDMA Sprint and Verison phones aren’t going to work). My iPhone 6 is both GSM and CDMA, which I think is a pretty neat feature for travel. Another great feature of an unlocked iPhone is tethering. This is when you use the cell as a modem to connect your other devices. So with the BTC prepaid card in my iPhone, I can connect our iPads, computers, Kindle, Nook…you get the picture. Many phones have the tethering feature, but AT&T hides it unless you pay them more money. Evil.

But wait, there’s more great news about BTC…ever since we’ve arrived in the Islands it just keeps getting cheaper and cheaper! Once you get the new SIM card in your phone, you simply dial *205#. This enters you into a menu system that allows you to check how much data is left on your current plan and purchase more. When we first started out we were conserving to save money and we buying 2GB plans for $30. After about the third time the price went down to $20! Cha-ching! The great thing about the pre-paid game is that, while the GB expire in 30 days (we all know they aren't’ lasting that long!) you can keep starting a new 30 day cycle when you run out!

But wait, there’s even more! Just recently the added an “unlimited” data plan for $35!!! Unbelievable, right? Good, don’t go believing it! We found the limit in the unlimited “limitless” plan, and it is 15 GB. That’s still a heap of YouTubing, Facebooking and blogging, so I’m pretty happy and it’s a lot cheap than even our “cheap” US Ting plan. 
Gotta stay connected!
What about coverage, you ask? It’s pretty darn good! If you are working, its very easy to plan to be near a tower because the towers are marked on all the charts. They are about the only aid to navigation that the Bahamians keep in one place, and it’s definitely the only ones with working lights! If you are within 8-10 miles of a tower, you can expect fast LTE service, just as fast as anything we’ve had stateside. Farther away from the tower you will have slower 3G…beyond 15 miles you are likely to have very spotty reception. But there are A LOT of towers. Even the smallest settlements have a tower. The only place where we stayed a long period of time with no service or poor service was in the Land and Sea Park, which is a long way from any big settlements. Outside of that, we’ve had excellent cell service every where we’ve stopped.

So the bottom line is this: if you need to be connected, you can easily plan your trips to be in cell service areas using the chart and some planing.  It’s reliable, fast and inexpensive.  

PS: I’m sure that if you wanted to talk to people that would be fine too. We called a marina once. 

What's your favorite way to stay connected? Or do you prefer to dis-connect completely? 



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4 comments

  1. I remember when we got our SIM card and the "Limitless" data plan we asked the woman specifically if there was a cap and if they throttled you back when you reached a certain limit. The answer to both was no. I guess no really means 15GB and then you just get cut off without explanation. Still, it's a good price for data.

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    1. We got cut off over Easter weekend....with no open BTC office for miles and days, so we just purchased another package. Maybe they can't imagine anyone using 15GB?

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  2. I personally like how when you check your usage it says, "Your current data plan is Limitless. You have 11.5 GB remaining." LOL!

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  3. Wow. I had no idea that there were so many antennas around and that they all offer LTE service when close enough, even in the smaller settlements! We should move our office there. :-) Might be different when you get to the outer islands, though.

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