When I lived in South Korea, I had two phones and a wifi hotspot: an unlocked iPhone 4S with a Korean SIM card and an iPhone 7 Plus with my U.S. SIM card. Without going into too many superfluous details, my T-Mobile plan in the United States allowed me to use unlimited internet abroad at no extra cost. But, the free data was at 2G speeds. To put that into simple terms, it’s damn slow.
Here is a collection of advice I compiled after using 2G internet for nearly two years. It’s not a desirable situation to be sure, but it is one that can be made to work.
Messaging apps seemed to work pretty well when sending messages comprised solely of text. KakaoTalk, Line, WeChat, WhatsApp, Kik, iMessage, and Signal all worked pretty well. Facebook Messenger, Tinder, Viber, and Bumble seemed to lag slightly, but still mostly worked. When sending or receiving pictures, videos, or other files, you’ll have to be patient.
(As a quick aside, I found that audio messages sent and received with iMessage were much higher quality and loaded much quicker than on KakaoTalk or WeChat.)
While video calling using data at 2G speeds is hit-or-miss and probably best avoided, audio calling works surprisingly well. (To be clear, I am speaking about VoIP services, not regular phone calls.) I tested this using FaceTime audio, Skype, KakaoTalk, and Facebook Messenger. Even if the call quality is not the highest, you’ll still be able to have a solid conversation and convey necessary information.
While the map itself may load slowly, navigation loads relatively quickly. Location data always appeared as accurate as when using LTE data, although it was very frustrating to have to wait for the images on the map to load. I tested this using the apps for Google Maps, Naver Map (네이버 지도), Waze, Apple Maps, and Daum Maps (다음 지도).
The Google Maps app has added a feature to allow users to download and save map data for later use. This means that someone could download map data when connected to wifi or over LTE and then use it later when connected to 2G-speed internet.
Browsing the web
I’m not going to beat around the bush: it’s (mostly) not worth it. For better or worse, modern websites are built for faster internet connections. It doesn’t matter what browser you use, most sites will take a long time to load. Sometimes they will take so long to load that they will load incorrectly.
Some websites have mobile versions which may load faster than the app version or the full browser version. Occasionally websites, such as CNN, will have “lite” versions designed for users in developing countries. Generally speaking, lite versions of websites are visually unappealing but still functional.
Music, videos, podcasts, and pictures
Don’t even try. YouTube videos, even set to their lowest possible quality level, will still take a frustratingly long time to load. Most songs and podcasts are the same way. Pictures will load are varying speeds depending on their file size.
My best advice is to download as much as you can when you are connected to faster internet. That’s easy with pictures and podcasts. Services such as Apple Music and Spotify allow subscribers to save songs locally, and YouTube Red gives users the power to do this for videos as well.
If you’re checking your email through an app (see below) or in your browser (see above), results may vary. However, if you are checking your email through a phone’s built-in email client, then you’ll probably be able to read basic emails with ease. Files attached to emails will load depending on their file size.
Most email correspondence between individuals are comprised mostly of text. However, many newsletters or messages from companies contain graphics or files that may take longer to load.
On one hand, apps may be able to load quicker than websites. A lot of graphics may have been installed on your device already, so they will not have to load using the 2G connection. On the other hand, information received or sent by the app will still have to use the slow data speeds.
I will not mince words: using the internet at 2G speeds can be incredibly frustrating. However, with a bit of foresight, it’s possible to make it far less of a hassle. Setting aside a few minutes before leaving a area with faster internet can make a world of difference. I’d also recommend checking out the blog Lifehacker, as they have covered the topic before. And just remember: patience is a virtue.