Phone and Internet on Trans-Sib
A ride Moscow-Irkutsk will take some 77 hours, or roughly 3 days.
GSM network (european frequency) is available all along the
Trans-Siberian, with few exceptions where you may need to wait
for an hour until the network is available again.
Choosing your train
Best conditions for having phone and internet connection are
on trains N 1 and N 9 (or N 2 and N 10 when going eastwards).
The best choice is the train N 9 (or N 10 eastwards). First
class (also known as SV, luxe, or two-berth) has two electric
plugs in every compartment.
Beeing called while on Trans-Siberian
You will need your mobile phone and your usual contract SIM
card. The phone should be european or tri-band suitable.
Train's electric network is a strange mix of 110 V and
220 V, plugs in compartments have 110 V, 220 V plugs are only
available in in the service car next to the restaurant
("shtabnoy wagon") so your mobile
phone's power supply should be compatible with 110 V
network (check your electric store or get a US manufactured
phone, like Motorola.) If keeping your phone turned on,
it will take a lot of power for switching between the
stations and searching for new networks. It will
need much more power then in usual "home" conditions, so
you will need to keep it plugged all the time. Please
note that there are quite a few independent networks
which are competing with each other, so your Russian
SIM will probably not work in all networks, although
they all will happily serve your "western" SIM.
Roaming can be expensive, so remember that to call abroad
is cheaper then beeing called. When called you may wish
to call back to cut the costs. The most cheapest is to
be called on your Russian SIM card, though you will need
to tell people your new number (use SMS for this). For
sensitive/business calls you may wish to wait for major
stations where you have some 20-30 minutes of silence,
otherwise running train is a noisy environment.
Sending and receiveing SMS to Russian phones and abroad
works all along the Trans-Sib, though we experienced
some delivery delays and lost messages from time to time.
So request acknowledge of receipt from the recepient if
the message is important.
Calling from Trans-Siberian
To call from Trans-siberian we advice to purchase a
russian prepaid SIM card. The best is one from MTS
operator, represented in most of the regions the
Trans-Siberian crosses. Calling to Russian phone
numbers is most probably cheaper with MTS cards.
To call abroad better use your "western" SIM: calls
cost about the same, but prepaid account can suddenly
expire, and reloading it while in the train can be
If you use callback, please setup it for your MTS
number, this is the cheapest option for longer talks,
but it requires some callback expertise.
GPRS is available everywhere where GSM is, though
settings can be operator specific, this requires
a lot of GPRS expertise. The best option is to
use your GSM phone as a regular modem and call
some provider with in-Russia land line access.
While at home, find an internet provider with
a russian land line access number. One option is to
buy a prepaid internet card, they are widely sold at newsstands
in Russia or you can purchase minutes over the internet.
The best option is probably a 7-digit access number
in Moscow. It will look something like +7 095 1234567.
Setup a "dialup" connection on your computer and try
to login yet at home.
Your laptop's or handeld's power supply should be compatible
with 110 V network, if you are travelling on the
train N 9 (or N 10 eastwards) Moscow-Irkutsk. IBM Thinkpads
are capable of 110 V or 220 V, you do not need to switch
Best time for checking your email is while at the station.
There are plenty of long stops (around 20-30 minutes). Also
connection between the stations is stable most of the time,
but you should keep in mind that connection can break
at any moment. Checking email using POP is not too practical,
especially if you get a lot of spam. Also IMAP needs quite
some time. I found the most practical to use shell login
(use putty ssh client under windows) and check email using
mutt or pine. Connection speed is 9600 kb, which is enough
for browsing with turned off pictures and checking emails.
I even managed to listen to online radio using Winamp, though
only to the stations with 8 kb bandwidth. If you have Bluetooth,
you can share the connection among several laptops/handhelds.
GPS, satellite access
We did not try satellite access on Transsib, I suspect
that it can be very tricky to keep the receiver toward
the satellite, especially if your compartment is on
the northern side. Among satellite providers probably
Iridium will work the best as it does not require
precise positioning of antenna, though using it inside
the train car can be tricky and it is not allowed to
open windows due to air conditioning engaged.
GPS receiver will most probably work fine, you can
get an USB connected receiver on Ebay for some $50.
It can be fun to track your position while the
train runs and check what places you are
travelling through. Also there are sticks with distance
to Moscow in kilometers, every 100 meters all along the tracks.
(these notes uploaded directly from the train)