Can you hear me now?

(above: my former cell phone collection in Tijuana)


When I started working in Tijuana I remember thinking it somewhat strange yet plausible that some law enforcement officials could have two or three cell phones.

But, honestly, there’s something about the border that triggers cell phone creep. Maybe in some cases it’s about keeping your criminal contacts separate from your legit contacts, but I also think it’s in response to cell phone carrier coverage that constantly slips and slides along the border area. I could never quite predict in Tijuana whether my U.S. work cell phone would be in U.S. local zone or Mexican roaming/international territory.

Eventually, my company gave me a second work cell phone, this one with a Nextel radio. The radios drive people nuts with their beeping sounds (see the Stairs to Nowhere blog post here) but so many people have them in Tijuana that it’s almost a sure thing for regular communication. In fact, whenever you hear a Nextel beep everyone within a 5 foot radius is checking their pockets or purses for their Nextels. The radio alternative means you pay a flat service to reach anyone else with a Nextel on either side of the border, and that’s far cheaper than an international phone call. Alas, even the Nextel (now Sprint/Nextel) has its black zone areas. So having two work phones – with the radio – guaranteed that I could be reached at any time and vice versa for those crucial breaking news stories.

When I moved to Tijuana, I realized I should probably have a personal phone since I didn’t have a land line. So I got a Mexican local cell phone. Towards the end of my time at the paper I got another U.S. “charge it as you go” phone as I started to redirect my life north of the border. So at one time I had four phones to make sure I could meet all my communication needs north or south of the border.

I’m still waiting for the day when someone solves this problem. But in the meantime, I have learned not to rush to any conclusions when I see people walking around here with multiple phones.

2 responses to “Can you hear me now?

  1. In 2004, I got a plan in San Diego with Cingular. It was called the North America Plan, 400 rollover minutes (plus some 1000 night/weekend) to or from anywhere in Mexico, the US or Canada for $59.99 a month. They work like local minutes no matter where you are on the continent. I calculated the cost of buying international phone cards based on the calls I would be making and it worked out only slightly in favor the Cingular plan.

    A year or two later, Cingular/AT&T stopped offering the North America Plan but allowed me to continue with it. I still have that plan almost five years later. The signal does switch towers near the border, dropping calls and requiring a redial. (I just double-checked and it looks like I’m getting 450 anytime minutes for $50.99.)

    I’m considering upgrading to newest iPhone next month, but the broadband data plan is another issue. I checked on the US data plan a few months ago ($20 at the time) and they said I would have to change plans to add that service. But the recent in the latest announcement about the new cheaper iPhones was that they will separate the data plan (now $30). That means I could keep my sacred North America plan and add data. BUT, that doesn’t get me data in Mexico. From what I remember when checking a few months ago, it would be another $25 to get data in Mexico. So the fully functioning, border crossing iPhone service would cost me $106 a month!

    Based on my usage, I’ll probably hold off on Mexican data and suffer through life without broadband when I’m in Mexico 😉 I’ll let you know what I come up with…

  2. Hey, Nathan. When you figure it out, write a post on your blog and I’ll link to it!

    It would also be neat to keep this discussion going and hear from others about how they communicate along the border.

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