Chapter 12 – My First World Phone

By September of 2001 I had already used a Fido phone on another network, my Nokia 5190 and attached analog adapter in Eastern Canada. I had also roamed on another country’s network (T-Mobile in the United States) with that same handset. But I had yet to roam on another continent. This would require a dual-band handset, called a “world phone” back in the day.

Such a device wouldn’t work on Japan’s mobile networks; carriers in Hong Kong, however, used the same GSM service that I enjoyed with Fido, just on another frequency. And why are we talking about Hong Kong all of a sudden? Unbelievable as it sounds, barely a week after my return from Japan I got booked on a comedy tour of Hong Kong, China and Singapore. The call came from the Toronto branch of The Second City — the same theatre I was working at five years prior when I received my first cell phone as an unwanted gift. And now, as a crowning achievement of my stint as an actor there, I was to represent them on three different stages half a world away.

Of course I couldn’t go without a working mobile phone at my side, so I headed to the nearest Fido store for help. At the time they offered two dual-band handsets: One was the beautiful Nokia 8890, a slider with a brushed aluminum shell that when closed was even smaller than my 3390. The only problem was that it cost almost a thousand bucks. The other, cheaper option was the Ericsson T28w. At two hundred and fifty it was still pricey, but with Fido’s generous thirty-day return policy I really had nothing to lose. So I brought one home and charged up the battery for my trip.

Then 9/11 happened.

Amazingly, the trip was still on. We travelled on one of the very first flights out of Toronto on Saturday, September 15th when planes were allowed to fly again. Our five-hour flight to San Francisco wasn’t just quiet, it was solemn — punctuated only by an emotional thank-you from the United Airlines crew. At SFO we transferred to a 747 and were upgraded to Business Class. The luxury proved to be a much-needed distraction from the events of the previous week.

And now, back to the phone…

What I remember most about this particular handset was what happened immediately upon my arrival in Hong Kong. A signal was acquired without issue; in fact, I got a voicemail notification as our overseas flight from San Francisco was still taxiing up to the gate. The problem was that I couldn’t actually dial in to hear it, and thus couldn’t impress my colleagues with my globe-hopping connectivity on the go. This was still 2001, remember, and I was in the company of actors, not high-flying executives. I had to settle for a call to Fido customer service instead, and spent the next half hour complaining while on a bus into town. Fortunately, that call was free.

Though my T28w stayed with me for the duration of my two weeks in Asia I didn’t end up using it all that much. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but thanks to Hong Kong’s advanced mobile culture I was about to discover the wonder of unlocked phones and bring home a rather expensive souvenir.