3G in the Netherlands: Telfort sucks, Vodafone rocks

Warning: this is a long and boring rant.  If you want the executive summary, here it is: If you’re in the Netherlands and want a 3G data connection, get a SIM card from Vodafone, they offer an excellent service.

While visiting Amsterdam for a couple days, I thought it would be nifty to have a local SIM card with data transfer. I would put it into my Android phone, and be able to use Google maps, read restaurant and museum reviews, and update my twitter feed if I came across anything interesting.

Shortly after having started to look for a cell company shop, I came across a Telfort store. They said they can sell me a SIM card with data transfer, and that the rate is €0.05 per 1kB.  I thought it’s a ripoff, but fair enough, if that’s their offer, and I need this, I’m willing to accept for now.  I purchased the SIM card, and asked for configuration details.

“What phone do you have?”
“G1, it’s an Android phone.”
“I can’t find this on our website.”
“It’s similar to… let me see…” – I looked at their phone model list – “HTC hero. Whatever works for Hero, will work for my phone too.”

The store assistant found the instructions and printed them out for me.  I’ve entered the configurations, but my G1 couldn’t make a connection.  The store assistant told me that she can’t help me.  I was running out of time, so I decided to try again in the evening.  I asked a friend who knew a bit of Dutch to help me around the Telfort website; we found all the configuration details again, and also a number you need to call to activate the SIM card — the store staff didn’t tell me about that.  I tried again a few times, and eventually gave up.  I paid the Telfort store a visit the next day. There was a different assistant this time.

“Hi, I bought a SIM card here yesterday, and couldn’t the data connection to work.”
“What’s the model of your phone?”
“It’s a G1.”
“We don’t sell that phone.”
“I think it’s a problem with the card, not the phone.”
“We never have problems with SIM cards.”
“OK, but can you check my SIM card for me?”
“We don’t have a phone here to check your SIM with.”
“I have another phone, which works with data connection, see here…”

I showed them a working 3G data roaming connection on another phone. I then replaced the SIM card with the Telfort one, entered the configuration and showed that the data connection didn’t work with Telfort’s.

“But we don’t sell that phone either”, said the assistant.
“I showed you that your SIM card didn’t work with two phones, and I’ve shown you that 3G works with one of them with another SIM. You’re saying that even though my G1 worked fine in Ireland, Portugal and Poland with local SIM cards, it doesn’t work with Telfort because you don’t sell it? And you can’t check with another phone because you don’t have a phone in your store?”
“Sorry, we can’t help you.”

Disgruntled, I left the store. I turned on the roaming in the other phone, and paid a small fortune for a couple of Google Maps segments and a search for “Vodafone.” Quickly enough, I arrived there, and the conversation went like this:

“Hi there, I would like to buy a SIM card, and I would like to use it for Internet access. Do you have such a thing?”
“Yes”, said the assistant, “It’s €7.50, and the Internet access is €10 for 30 days.”
“Any transfer limits?”
“No, there are none.”
“Cool! My phone is nonstandard, but it’s similar to HTC Dream, so the configuration should work with my phone.”

The assistant printed out the HTC Dream instructions, which contained all the right information: APN name, username, password, proxy server IP address and port. Then he took a booklet, browsed it for a few seconds, then opened it, handed it over to me, pointed at a bit of text and said:

“This is how to enable the Internet connection. You need to send a text message to this number, as descibed here. Before you can use it, you need to top up. I don’t have vouchers right now, but there’s a shop around the corner which will let you top-up.”

I paid and left. Got the top-up in the other store, then sat on a bench. I configured my phone, topped up the account, sent the text message and voilà! The 3G connection worked. I happily used it throughout the stay, and then left the SIM card with a friend, who enjoyed the 3G data for the remaining period of time.

Yey Vodafone!

By the way, a SIP voice connection over 3G worked just fine.

“Hi grandma, how are you? Good, good, I’m sitting in a café in Amsterdam…”