Do you travel abroad for work or for play and feel that you constantly get stung on your international cell roaming rates no matter how disciplined you try to be with your usage? Well I can definitely relate if you are one of those people who thoroughly enjoy 1 Euro half pint beers, but feel the hangover kick in a month later when you open that 100 Euro mobile phone bill. Funny how that works huh? You work so hard to save money via outsourcing and/or setting up an International office where you do a lot of business abroad only to blow your savings on wireless roaming every month. As the current average roaming rate in China (across the cellular industry) is $5.99/minute whether you are making or receiving a call, I’m sure you can see how this can quickly add up even if the only thing you are doing is retrieving your voice mail. So I have decided to share with you 5 of my clever tricks that I often use as well as recommend to my clients to hep them save a ton of money on their international wireless roaming fees.
1. Jajah, ‘Free Your Voice’ with FREE CALLS to CHINA! Think of it like Skype for cell phones. Most of the carriers intentionally put a ‘delay’ in your wireless handset on the data service hence if you have ever tried to use Skype from your mobile you hear an echo. Unfortunately, it is not a bad connection. It is basically a diplomatic way to keep you from taking up precious and valuable space on the data network and getting a little bit carried away with your ‘unlimited’ data package. Just like nothing in life is ‘Free’ neither is anything truly ‘unlimited’. At any rate, Jajah is a FREE download for your cell phone. As long as you and the person you are calling have Jajah software downloaded on your respective handsets you can call each other for free and talk unlimited ;-). Jajah makes its money from website advertising and selling other premium services.
2. Babble Stick: Oh the beauty of IP based telephony. Plug your Babble Stick into any PC around the world and make free phone calls. They also have a handset version of the stick which is really small and cute (it’s on their website). Babble Stick uses a secure software platform integrated on a USB key with audio devices and drivers built in. There is no special software required. Additionally, instant messaging and voice mail comes standard with your Babble Stick. Just plug in and babble away. That word is starting to grow on me. I think I am going to start saying ‘Babble’ instead of talk and ‘Handy’ instead of cell phone, ‘cause dat’s what they say in the U.K. Ok now, carry on.
3. Unlock Your Phone and use a Pre-Paid SIM Card. And better yet if your company uses Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony service, forward your extension to your mobile number. The reason why is the Pre-Paid SIM Card phone number is a different phone number from your regular cell phone number that is why forwarding your number is recommended so that you only have to give people one number to reach you (although you can forward your phone number from any phone that has a call forwarding feature built-in, beware the per call forwarding fee). Unlocking your phone means having the carrier restrictions released so that you can use your phone with any GSM carrier SIM Card. The 2 major benefits of unlocking your phone/BlackBerry/PDA is: #1, you can use your phone anywhere in the world there is a GSM network as opposed to only in the places your carrier has international cell phone roaming agreements in place and #2 You can save a crapload of money on your international roaming fees by using the local provider in the country which you are located. With a pre-paid SIM Card you are paying local rates when you make and receive calls within that country and also in most European Countries calling party pays which means essentially your incoming calls are free. If you are a T-Mobile subscriber who has had service for more than 3 months you can call T-Mobile Customer Care and request to have your phone unlocked for free. They will provide you with the unlock code and give you the instructions to manually unlock your phone. For all other GSM carriers you will have to use a third party provider and pay a nominal fee. I personally use and recommend: Unlock It Now And for all persons looking to obtain Pre-Paid SIM Cards at an aggressive international rate, the most aggressive international roaming rate with FREE incoming calls I have found is through Cellular Abroad and Cell Hire.
4. Try to use your data features such as email and text messaging as opposed to making voice calls when possible. Using two-way messaging and email is considerably less expensive than per minute call rates. And use your Babble Stick ;-) to check your cellular voice mail when possible.
5. Palm and BlackBerry users who travel overseas regularly throughout the year (60+ days throughout the year) should call their respective wireless carriers and request an international data package. This will allow you to get unlimited use of your email at a flat fee when you travel abroad. The rate is about $10-15/mo additional. And bonus: Most cellular providers will not charge you an extra fee to set up your BlackBerry or Palm as a backup modem that can be connected to your laptop to save on the daily hotel rate to get use of their wireless network via your wireless enabled laptop.
Before You Travel Abroad
Make sure you have an international enabled handset.
Three Weeks Prior to Your Trip:
Use a site such as www.wirelessinfo.com to look up your model number and see that it has a GSM roaming capability. In the technical specifications it will display GSM 900 or GSM 1800, or say tri-band or quad-band if it is international roaming enabled.
Call the customer care for your service provider and make sure that international roaming service is enabled on your cell phone handset and verify that you will have coverage in the cities you are traveling. Although sometimes costly, it is better to make sure you have it as a back up option. At the time you are activating the service, get the international customer care number and store it in your phone (not your sim card) and record it on a wallet size emergency card.
If you don't have an international capable phone rent one from CellHire.
Back up all your data and address book from your cell phone or BlackBerry onto your computer.
Purchase a VoIP enabled product such as Babble Stick or VPhone or activate a service like Skype with the ability to call to a landline or mobile phone from your laptop or a PC.
Two Weeks Prior to Your Trip
Additional Steps to Take Before You Travel Abroad
Vist a website such as www.unlockitnow.com to get an unlock code for your cell phone.
Go to a company such as Cellular Abroad or Cell Hire and look for international pre paid sim cards where calling party pays (essentially it means that all incoming calls will be free.)
Go to a site such a www.jajah.com to download the software on your phone and send the 'free download link' to your friends and others who call you frequently on your mobile.
Visit www.wififreespot.com to print out a list of all the free hotspots in the countrie(s) you will be traveling.
Visit www.blackberryforums.com for details on setting up your BlackBerry as a modem.
1 week prior to your trip:
Visit a local retail store and have them assist you with making an international phone call and switching your network manually if your phone does not automatically switch over when you arrive overseas.
Enjoy your trip!