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The bill is in

My cell phone bill arrived with all the international roaming details for Germany. Very educational. My usual work set-up is that I forward my work phone to my cell phone when I am out of the office so I can always be reached under the same number. This time I decided to give global roaming a try.

In short: It worked very well. My BlackBerry 7100 connected right away to T-Mobile in Germany — not a surprise since I have a T-Mobile contract in the U.S. It started downloading my e-mail, and since I have all my phone numbers stored in international format I could dial from my phone book without any extra keystrokes. On the train trip from Frankfurt to Saarbrücken it logged on several times to the Vodafone and e-plus networks to maintain a signal. Oddly, I was not charged for any data roaming on T-Mobile, only for data roaming on e-plus and Vodafone — but this may have been a billing glitch.

Roaming for voice calls is $0.99/minute for all calls on all networks in Germany. That’s kind of steep and the only small consolation was that the forwarding from my work phone was a local call and thus free. The other downside: In order to reach your cell phone, people in Germany have to call your U.S. number. The damage for 9 days: $67 for voice, $2 for messaging, $2.50 for data.

The conclusion: Global data retrieval (e-mail) is a bargain. Global roaming for voice is too expensive if nobody else is picking up the bill. My land-line long-distance service costs me 4 cents per minute to Germany. It would have been smarter to forward voice calls to Germany and pick them up with a cell phone running on a German SIM card, especially since incoming calls on such cell phones are free! (Details: e-plus, Vodafone, T-Mobile.) In fact, I used a second cell phone with a German SIM card to stay in touch with friends and family.

But what do you do when you travel through several countries and don’t stay in one place long enough to use a local card? There are two considerations: One is, of course, price. The advantage of local pre-paid cards disappears when roaming internationally. The other is that with each new SIM card the phone number changes and it seems to me that it would be important that one can be reached under the same number. Well, there are solutions, SIM cards which are not as cheap as local cards and probably cheaper than international roaming from your U.S. provider. These global roaming SIM cards go by names such as Hop, MonacoPlus, and United Mobile, and if you take a moment to search for sources on the Web you will probably find some good prices.

Before I go: Using your phone globally and changing SIM cards only works (1) with GSM phones; (2) if your GSM phone operates in at least one U.S. and one international frequency band (3 or 4 bands is even better); and (3) if your phone is not “locked” to the service of one particular provider or if it has been unlocked.

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