GSM phone, UK to Canada


in Canada, Geek stuff, Travel

This post is on cell-phone migration, and probably not of interest to many people. If you know about GSM compatibility issues and Canadian cellular providers, please have a look.

Earlier this year, Claire very kindly lent me her old Nokia 3510i cellular phone, which I have been using in Oxford since. Paying roaming fees while in Canada is definitely not something I want to do, especially given how criminal the cost for sending even text messages from Ireland or Scotland was (about 60p, or $1.25 per message).

Since it is a GSM phone and a number of Canadian cell phone companies also use the GSM standard, it is at least possible that I could just pick up a SIM card and use it as a prepaid phone during the time when I am in Canada. This depends on it being a) not ‘locked’ to only work with a specific provider and b) capable of using the GSM frequency employed by the Canadian operator.

Apparently, the frequencies the 3510i can use are EGSM 900/GSM 1800. From what I gather, that should work with the Fido network in Vancouver. At $30 to get the SIM card (actually three times what I paid for the same thing from O2 in the UK), it is probably worthwhile for being able to stay in touch over the two weeks. I may even be able to use the same SIM the next time I am living in Vancouver for any length of time.

Does anyone know if any of the other cellular providers in Vancouver use GSM and /or have support for EGSM 900/GSM 1800 frequency phones? Also, is there any way to determine whether this particular handset is ‘locked?’

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous September 3, 2006 at 1:04 am

The Rogers Wireless network for GSM operates on 1900MHz. No good for your phone.

Anonymous September 3, 2006 at 1:08 am

Bell and Telus both use CDMA – no good for a GSM phone.

Anonymous September 3, 2006 at 1:11 am

Checking if your phone is locked is easy. Borrow a SIM from a friend who has an account with a different wireless service provider and see if it works in your phone or not. If it works, and your phone thinks it is his (or her) phone with that phone’s number, then your phone is already unlocked.

But if it creates some sort of error message and doesn’t work, then your phone is locked.

Milan September 3, 2006 at 12:44 pm

The most confusing thing is definitely the question of frequencies. The Fido page lists scores of frequencies, but it doesn’t make entirely clear which of them work in Vancouver. Also, it doesn’t say anything about whether you will be charged more for being on a non-standard frequency for the area.

Milan September 3, 2006 at 2:37 pm

I just realized, while looking for my watch with the chipped glass, that I still have my old Fido SIM card from when I subscribed to their network in first year. I wonder if it would still work.

Inserting it into the phone and turning it on leads to an error screen reading: “Phone restricted.” It would appear that it has been locked. I will inquire at one of Oxford’s many phone unlocking places as to how much this would add to the cost of making it usable in Vancouver.

Anonymous September 3, 2006 at 2:53 pm

You can very easily generate your own phone unlocking codes with certain websites. This one works for Nokia phones, and make sure to try the last generated code first. If more than a couple of them don’t work, stop trying. If you enter five wrong ones, you will need to zap the flash memory to unlock the phone.

Remember, it’s your phone, so you are definitely allowed to unlock it if you like. Locking them is just a monopolistic practice by the telcos.

Milan September 3, 2006 at 3:00 pm


That site worked perfectly. The last code in the list it came up with worked right away. The phone will now start up with the Fido SIM inserted. It even contains scores of phone numbers from people I used to call when I was in first year.

Now, I just need to find out whether I can use this old SIM to set up a pre-paid Fido account for a couple of weeks.

Anon September 4, 2006 at 12:28 am

After more than a year, it is extremely unlikely that your old Fido SIM will still work. They will almost certainly make you buy a new one, which may or may not be worthwhile given the length of time you plan to spend in VanCity.

Gabe September 5, 2006 at 3:25 pm


I am almost certain that that phone will not work anywhere in North America. The only GSM networks in Vancouver are the Fido and Rogers networks, both of which operate on GSM-1900 (possibly also GSM-850, though I’m not sure about that).


Milan September 5, 2006 at 3:52 pm


I suppose the thing to do is dig up my ancient old cell phone from when I was in first year: a Nokia 3390, I believe. Hopefully, the batteries will not have corroded.

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