Two data SIM card experiences: Rebelfone (awful) and b-mobile (good)

UPDATE: Rebelfone contacted me and said they are waiting to find out from the overseas SIM card companies whether or not I used the SIM cards. If they determine that I did not use them, they will presumably refund my money. I will keep you updated.

UPDATE 8/26/2013: Chris from Rebelfone's support team emailed me the following message:

"As per your telephonic conversation, I am gratified to confirm that the management has approved refund for the 3 Mifi units which malfunctioned. I request you to remove the blog. The credit will be applied upon our agreement that no further dispute or disparagement shall be made against Rebelfone regarding this matter.

I replied: "Thank you for offering the refund. I will make a note on the blog post that the refund was issued. However, I will not remove the blog post."

UPDATE 10/8/2013: As of 10/8/2013 I have not received a refund.

UPDATE 10/9/2013: Chris from Rebelfone's support team emailed me the following message:

Thank you for your patience. We have credited $119.06 to your credit card, against three malfunctioned devices.

I went to Tokyo in June. Before I left, I made plans to get wireless Internet so I could make Skype calls, use an online map, take Instagram photos, and do email while I was away from the hotel. My iPhone is under contract with AT&T, and they have an international cellular data plan that costs $120 for 800MB. I considered it, but I wanted to see if I could find a better deal.

After some searching, I found a highly-praised company called b-mobile, which offers a "Visitor SIM" -- it's a pre-activated 1GB card advertised as being "perfect for Skype." B-mobile offered Narita airport pickup or delivery to a hotel. The price was ¥3,980 (US$40). Earlier, I'd purchased an unlocked Samsung Galaxy Pocket Android phone for $100, which I planned on using with the SIM card in Japan. (My iPhone is under contact and locked from using 3rd party SIMs.)

When I arrived at my hotel in Shinjuku, my b-mobile SIM card was waiting for me in a little envelope with clear English instructions. I popped it into the Android phone, followed the instructions, and within a minute or two I was online. I set the phone up as a Wi-Fi hotspot and my iPhone had no problem connecting to it. For the rest of my stay in Tokyo, I had access to high-speed Internet everywhere I went. It was great.

Now for my second experience, the awful one.

In late July, my family and I went to London and Paris for a vacation. I wanted us to be able to use our phones while we were out, so I went online to find a European equivalent of b-mobile (which is Japan-only). I found a site called Rebelfone, which offered wireless hotspot devices for under $40 each, with 1GB data. I ordered two for the UK and two for France -- that way we could be in touch with each other if we split up.

My A+ experience with b-mobile had tricked me into thinking I'd have an equally pleasant experience with Rebelfone. As it turned out, the Rebelfone experience was an F- failure. They are one of the most screwed up companies I've ever had the displeasure of doing business with. At every point where something could go wrong, Rebelfone did the wrong thing. The devices didn't work and they customer support was poor. I spent many hours of my vacation in the futile attempt to try to get the devices to work.

Here is a list of the ways that Rebelfone failed:

1. Deception. I took a survey on Rebelfone's website and was promised a “50% discount on your purchased items.” However, the only discount I received was for the shipping costs. When I brought this to Rebelfone’s attention via email, I was told that the discount did not apply to the activation fee ($10 per device), or the data ($39 per France Mi-Fi device and $30 per UK device). In other words, the only thing the discount applied to was the shipping. On a $197.96 order I saved $10. This is deceptive advertising. I should have been tipped off at this point that Rebelfone was a company to stay away from.

2. No information was supplied with the equipment. Also, there was no marking to tell which Mi-Fi devices were for France and which ones were for the UK. I received nothing more than four little black boxes and 4 USB cables, and a card that had the return address printed on it.

3. Incompetence. Incorrect user guides were emailed to me. I was emailed instructions for phones, not Mi-Fi devices.

4. Failure to provide passwords. Upon arriving in England, I tried the devices, but discovered that I needed a password to connect to the Wi-Fi, which was not provided.

5. Slow-to-respond customer service. I emailed Rebelfone on Sun, Jul 28, 2013 at 9:45 AM and asked for the password. I received a reply on Mon, Jul 29, 2013 at 7:18 AM, with the password for the Wi-Fi signal.

6. Incorrect documentation. The password allowed me to connect to the Wi-Fi, but none of the units worked. The instructions that Rebelfone emailed me told me to use the password 123456789 to access the administration features at but it wasn’t a valid password. I emailed Rebelfone about this, and was told that the admin password was actually “password.” In other words, Rebelfone’s instructions were incorrect.

7. Improperly configured or defective hardware. One of the UK Mi-Fi devices didn’t even broadcast an SSID.

8. Slow-to-respond customer service, part 2. I tried changing the Internet setting to UK as specified in the instructions but the device still didn’t connect. I emailed Rebelfone about the problem on Mon, Jul 29, 2013 at 6:35 PM. I didn’t receive a reply until Tue, Jul 30, 2013 at 3:01 PM, which read:

I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused. I have escalated the issue to the network team, however it may about 12 hours to rectify the issue. A detailed description of any error messages or other anomalous behavior when you attempted to use the data services will assist in locating the source the problem and to resolve it quickly.

On Wed, Jul 31, 2013 at 8:05 AM, I received the following email from Rebelfone:

I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused. The network has confirmed the line active, Please turn off the MiFi device and remove the SIM card, reinsert the SIM card in the device and turn it on and try using the data.

Following these instructions, I was able to get one of the devices to work. The other didn’t work.

9. Poor Internet service. Service on the one working unit was spotty and required frequent resets.

10. Improperly configured or defective hardware, part 2. When I arrived in France, I discovered that the France Mi-Fi units did not work at all. The units found the mobile signal but would not connect to it.

11. Slow-to-respond customer service, part 3. On Sat, Aug 3, 2013 at 2:28 PM I emailed Rebelfone to let them know the the France units did not work. I didn’t receive a reply for two days. On Mon, Aug 5, 2013 at 3:01 PM, Rebelfone emailed:

I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused. Upon receipt of the items(s) our team will assess the devices to see what was the issue and shortly afterwards, we will escalate the matter to management to seek their review. Once again we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused.

12. Conflicting return instructions. Rebelfone's email told me to return the units to an address in California but the cases for the units told me to return them to an address in Colorado.

I emailed Rebelfone with the above list. I asked for a refund. Rebelfone politely told me, "No way in hell are we going to refund your money." I won't do business with them again.

Are you an international traveler who has had an wireless service experience worth sharing? Post it in the BBS!