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Affordable Internet anywhere in Turkey through GPRS/EDGE
Tuesday, 07 April 2009
Since our last visit to Turkey in 2006, the internet landscape has changed quite a bit. In 2006 it took a bit of logistics to get affordable connected to the internet. Now in 2009, this has changed with dramatic price reductions for mobile cell phone connected internet using GPRS/EDGE. Same as in other Asian countries, it dramatically improves internet access once within the mobile cell phone network. Here you find our experiences in April 2009.

Affordable internet through Turkcell GPRS/EDGE
Affordable internet through Turkcell GPRS/EDGE
A quick scan among the many mobile cell phone networks in Turkey resulted in a short list of the most popular ones. Most importantly, the ones with an English website which made Turkcell the winner for us.

Prepay SIM card in Turkey - Hazir Kart from Turkcell

From Iran we could read about the Turkcell Prepay card (Hazir Kart) and what the charge is for internet access. Pretty affordable, Turkcell offers a 1 Gb data package for about € 26,- valid for 1 month. With GPRS/EDGE that’s a lot of hours on the internet.

So in Yuksekova, the first town after the Sero-Esendere border coming from Iran we bought a Turkcell Hazir Kart SIM card. Just 1 hour in the Turkcell shop with extremely helpful young people. The prepay SIM card costs 10 TL with 25 credits and has limited validity, meaning it’ll stop functioning after it’s not used for sometime. The SIM card worked immediately in the Turkcell shop. Don't forget to take the contract with you and make sure YOUR NAME is spelled correctly and written as listed in your passport - you might need it to prove ownership in a Turkcell shop. If you stay longer than 3 weeks in Turkey, read on about registering your cell / mobile phone.

Activation of Internet in Turkey through Turkcell

Turkcell Access Point
Turkcell Access Point
Next thing to do is to get the settings for 3 modes of Internet operation. First is WAP, meaning internet browsing on the mobile phone. Second is MMS, meaning being able to send pictures and sounds over the internet through the mobile phone. And third and most conveniently, the settings (AP name) for using the internet on a laptop through a mobile phone.

The way to get these 3 settings is to call the helpdesk. The Turkcell helpdesk is available in English also. Dial 4440535 (2 TL / session) and press 77 for English. Ignore the menu and wait for the operator.

In a smooth 5 minute session, all 3 settings (WAP, MMS and Laptop internet) were sent to the mobile phone. To save the settings, the helpdesk gave a pincode which is 1234. With all 3 settings saved and activated, Internet on the mobile phone worked immediately. The Access Point name (AP) for Turkcell is "Internet".

Turkcell Internet settings for a Laptop

XP Dialup settings for Turkcell
XP Dialup settings for Turkcell
Next without asking, the Helpdesk gave the dial-in number for the laptop. In stead of the usual “*99***#” for Turkcell it’s “*99#”. This setting goes to the dial-in settings for a mobile Internet connection in Windows XP or whatever OS is used. The Username and Password is arbitrary – however in most cases can not be left blank. After this the Internet connection also worked through the laptop - using the Infrared connection of a Nokia 3110 Classic. Using IR is more easy; one has INSTANT control over starting and stopping the internet connection by just taking the handset away from the IR eye of the laptop. With BlueThooth the connection works with several meters - to disconnect immediately one has to run away with the mobile phone for several meters or just turn the mobile phone off.

Activation of 1Gb datapackage in Turkey through Turkcell

Last was to activate the Turkcell 1 Gb data package which can be activated using SMS / Text message. First the Turkcell Prepay balance must be 300 Units minimum. 100 Units in April 2009 costs 18 TL (approx € 8,10) 250 Units takes 42 TL (€ 18,-) We upped the balance with 350 Units for about € 26,-

Next we wrote the 1Gb activation SMS “abone 1 Gb” to 2260. Immediately a reply came with “1 Gba ayda 300 Kontore abone olmak icin bu mesaja EVET yazip cevaplayin”. Well go figure what that means. The Turkcell 1 Gb internet package wasn’t activated, each session still took a few TL. With a bright moment, it must be a confirmation message. EVET means Yes. So a SMS reply to 2260 with EVET did the trick. A new message came “1 Gb Aylik internet paket aboneligniz baslatilmistir. Gule Gule Kullanin. Turkcell” Meaning, the 1Gb package was activated and 300 Units were deducted from the prepay balance.

Since then we had a working Prepaid internet connection of reasonable speed everywhere in the Turkcell mobile cellphone network. The 1Gb ticked away slowly. After just 1 week we’d used about 300 Mb after daily sessions of several hours each. The datapackage works as a monthly subscription. Cancelation of the internet package is done by sending a text / SMS message containing "IPTAL" to 2260.

Turkcell revenue trick

Now there’s one catch with a prepaid 30 day internet package from Turkcell. When the data package is expired or fully used within 1 month. The last internet session reaching this limit silently continues eating away the prepay balance. The rate / Kb is very steep and will quickly result in a negative prepaid balance and a closed internet connection. “What the heck” was our response, lost about 100 units because of this feature.

The only safe way to prevent this from happening is maintaining a low prepaid balance.
If that’s not an option, the last internet session must be carefully watched for the remaining Mb’s in the internet package. Close the connection before it eats away your prepaid balance.

This trick most likely generate Turkcell quite a bit of revenue. A nicer implementation would be to close the internet connection once the internet package expires or is fully used .

Staying longer than 3 weeks in Turkey?

Then you should know about a Turkish telecommunication law. Every handset used with a local Turkish cell / mobile SIM card must be registered within 3 weeks. After 21 days the Network Operator de-activates the phone number. On the 23 rd day your phone reports "SIM card registration failed". Your cell / mobile phone can still be used with foreign SIM cards. 5 days before de-activation of the IMEI number, your handset will get a Turkish text / SMS message stating you should register. This text / SMS message looks like this

<IMEI number>......... IMEI nolu cihaz kayit disi listesinde
oldugu icin DAY/MONTH/YEAR da kullanim disi birakilacaktir.
Hattiniz acik kalacaktir. Bilgi icin 4440532

3 week grace period

The 3 week grace period is usually enough for package tourists. A workaround is to have a 2nd handset or buy a Turkish cell / mobile phone registered in your name. The same applies for PDA’s, iPhone’s, anything with an IMEI. Registering can be done at the bigger branches of your network operator. You’ll need your passport, mobile phone and SIM card and MOST IMPORTANT a copy of the SIM card contract you signed when buying the prepaid number. Your name in your passport will be checked against the name in the contract. Officially the process takes several days to register the handset IMEI with Turkish state Telecom. In any case it is best to register your cell / mobile phone the moment you buy the SIM card. The costs for registration is 5 TL at Turkcell. You can only register 1 foreign cell / mobile phone on your name in 1 year, otherwise TAX must be paid for importing and registering a 2nd cell mobile phone into Turkey. The latter undoubtedly is a paper hell you might want to avoid as a tourist.

After mobile phone registration

Turkcell shipped a text / SMS message 6 days after the mobile / cell phone registration form was submitted to Turkish State Telecom. It stated the IMEI of the phone is now registered. From this day moving the SIM card to a different mobile / cell phone results in not finding the Turkcell network. The Turkcell SIM card is linked to the IMEI of the mobile / cell phone. 

Mentioning the Turkish State Telecom law to new subscribers.

The official stance of Turkcell to mention the Turkish State Telecom law to register handsets is like this. A Turkcell employee is not obliged to mention the law because of 2 reasons. First Turkcell can't see wether your cell / mobile phone is already registered with Turkish Telecom. Second, Turkcell doesn't know if you stay longer than 21 days. High chance when you buy a prepaid SIMcard you will not be informed. In any case most likely not by Turkcell.
Confronted with "A tourist can't know about the state telecom law", comes with a simple reply. "I'm sorry but this is how Turkcell operates". In retrospect, for those who stay longer than 3 weeks, the Turkish State Telecom law brings extra revenue to Turkcell. In the best case its a Turkish cell / mobile phone or a new Turkcell prepaid simcard sold to a frustrated customer. For those who decide to register the cell / mobile phone and wait for re-activation of the SIM card - it takes several days before your number is activated again. Provided that you have the original contract and the name on the contract is the same as in your passport.

The Turkish embassy / consulate in your country might have information about the state telecom law. The Turkish Embassy in the UK mentions registering your cell / mobile phone.

Internet filtering in Turkey

The Internet in Turkey is filtered, however on a moderate scale with a few sharp edges. in April 2009 is still blocked, the domain simply doesn’t resolve. Social network site comes back with a banned message from Turkish Telecommunication. Compared to counties like Iran, Syria, UAE and Saudi Arabia, the internet in Turkey is lightly filtered. However in the UAE access to YouTube is visible, however individual video items are blocked – a task of huge magnitude. In April 2009 there was a stir in Turkey about blocking Google – because of insulting texts listed by the search engine. Most likely, a court decision in that direction will undoubtedly cause more protests than the 2007 block of YouTube did.

Turkcell in Greece?

Yes, in Alexandroupolis in Greece the Turkcell network is active WITHOUT roaming Greek mobile networks. Internet connections through Turkcell in Greece pop-up in Turkey, meaning the internet is still filtered. Alexandroupolis is about 30 Km from the border. The strength of the Turkcell GSM signal in Alexandroupolis in Greece is quite strong.
For a border area it's surprising to have a foreign GSM signal so deep inside the other country.
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