Some GSM Cell Phone Tips - “Handys”
From an experienced wireless roamer
A guest article by Sebastian Harrison
There are several options for cellular phone service while traveling in Germany. For shorter visits of several weeks renting a mobile phone is the best option. For longer stays of a few months purchasing a prepaid phone is more cost effective. Your current U.S. cell phone may also work for you in Germany. Read on, as we discuss the options that can save you money on your next trip to Germany with local rates and free incoming calls.
Using Your Own Phone
While cell phones are widely used throughout the U.S. and North America, 80 percent of them are completely incompatible for German and other overseas use. European cell phone services operate on the GSM system, as do the American carriers AT&T and T-Mobile. However, they operate on separate frequencies. In Europe the 900 and 1800 MHz bands are used, as opposed to the American bands of 900 and the newly emerging 850 MHz. Newer and more highly priced phones have the additional foreign bands (tri-band, quad-band) and would be available for overseas roaming services. You would need to check with your carrier to find out the specifics of your phone.
If you find your phone will work overseas, you have the option of “roaming.” Roaming is the most expensive option available and is recommended only if you are using the phone for emergencies or you need to retain your current number. Other, more economical options include switching out your current “SIM” card (the postage-stamp-sized chip under the battery in your phone, much like a digital camera memory card) for a German SIM card. The SIM card is the brain of the phone, the phone simply being a vessel. The newly inserted SIM card will give your phone a new identity with a local German number and a local German rate plan, with free incoming calls.
Germany has several service providers, but one has designed a service with the traveler in mind. German provider Ortel Mobile is offering German-specific SIM cards with the phone number available on purchase, free unlimited incoming calls and $0.12 per minute internationally back to the U.S. This service is only available through the U.S. SIM distributor cellularbroad.com.
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Sounds great doesn’t it? But there’s always a catch. Your cell phone provider doesn’t want you to be able to switch your SIM card. Why would they? They are price gouging you the second you step off the plane and let your family know you’ve arrived safely. All U.S. cell phone providers have locked their phones with a security PIN, so that competing companies and cost effective foreign SIMs cannot be used. But wait... the government is on your side. In 2006 Librarian of Congress James H. Billington listed cell phone unlocking as one of six new exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, allowing all customers to have their phones unlocked upon request. Your cell phone provider will provide you with the unlock code, although this may take some time to do, and you will definitely need to talk to a supervisor.
Renting a Cell Phone
If you find out that your phone will not work for you overseas or you run into the red tape of getting your phone unlocked, renting a cell phone may be a good option for you. Rentals are available pre- and post-trip. Most major overseas airports will have phone services available to you upon arrival, however these are considered a last-resort option, as you have noticed in the airport five-dollar neck pillows are $20 and a bagel sandwich is $10. Airports are geographic monopolies able to charge exorbitant rates. Renting a phone online before your departure is a good solution.
There is an abundance of cell phone rental operators, most charging around $1.00 per minute for incoming and outgoing calls. The Ortel distributor Cellular Abroad also offers rental phones by the week and — unlike the airport option — will allow you to secure your new overseas phone number in advance, so that you can pass it on to family members and coworkers. One potential disadvantage to renting a phone online as opposed to taking your own phone is the billing. Online rental phones are as a standard prepaid, so you run the risk of running out of talk time. Call credit can be purchased in advance or during the trip from the phone. Companies like Cellular Abroad provide 24/7 recharge support to help alleviate this issue.
Buying an Unlocked GSM Cell Phone
This is a good option for those taking an extended stay overseas, for study-abroad students or for the frequent traveler who would run into multiple rental deposits and shipping fees. Purchasing a phone, depending on the model, can be slightly more expensive than renting, but it provides the traveler with a permanently unlocked GSM cell phone, which can be used with any country or companies SIM card. The GSM cell phone is the world standard and will give the owner the option of use in 200 countries worldwide (with the appropriate bands and SIM card). Global roaming SIMs are available, that with your unlocked phone would allow coverage in over 100 of the most popular travel destinations. The National Geographic Society has launched such a SIM available with a rental phone or for purchase and they are doing that exclusively through cellularabroad.com.
Each trip and each traveler will have their specific needs, but communication remains a part of them all. If you need a phone for emergencies, calling a cab, confirming a reservation or you simply want to escape the hotel charges there is an option for you. Business travelers, leisure tourists, and students need to stay in touch with people back home. The question is how much are willing to pay for it? If you’re going to Germany for any amount of time and you use Ortel Mobile, it won’t be much at all.
Sebastian Harrison, cellularabroad.com
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