TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Traveller Seeks Phone Advice

Re: Traveller Seeks Phone Advice

John Levine (
16 May 2005 22:42:36 -0000

> phone (that is, with GSM 900/1800/1900 or GSM 850/900/1800/1900) then
> you can use your Australian cell phone in the USA and Europe. All you
> need to do is buy a prepaid SIM card in from a cell phone provider in
> the country that you are visiting. For the USA, the big two GSM
> providers are T-Mobile and GSM.

It appears that neither Cingular nor T-Mobile will sell you a prepaid
SIM in the US without a phone. If you poke around on their web sites,
all the prepaid plans include a phone. I realize there's no technical
reason that you couldn't just pop in a new SIM like you can in Europe,
but if they won't, they won't. My guess would be that there are so
few unlocked GSM phones in the US and even fewer people who understand
what they are that it's not worth the hassle of supporting them.

A regular subscription phone is no good, since the subscriptions are
all for at least a year with a large penalty if you cancel early.

> So, your best bet is to go to a company-owned cell phone shops,
> explain that you're a foreign tourist (have your passport handy) and
> ask if they will sell you a phone. Pay with a credit card; that
> serves as excellent identification.

Agreed. With a credit card and a passport it shouldn't be a problem.

> Assuming that you're buying a phone in the USA, I would recommend
> against the GSM carriers. GSM is primarily an urban service in the
> USA, and coverage can be spotty or non-existant outside of the large
> cities.

That used to be true, but Cingular is rapidly switching their whole
network to GSM, to the extent that they're selling GSM-only phones
now. If you have a GSM phone, particularly if it's both GSM 850/1900,
it should work all over the place.

> Another reason for going with Verizon is you buy a phone in the USA is
> that a US GSM 1900 phone is of no use outside of the USA and Canada.

Hey, my US GSM phone worked great in Argentina. The rates weren't
great, but that's a separate issue. I looked at the phones that
Cingular and T-Mobile sell, and was surprised how many of them, not
just the ones sold as world phones, handle 900 or 1800 as well as 850
and 1900. But if you can unlock your Australian phone, you don't

> I would recommend against rental. Renting is almost always much more
> expensive then buying a throwaway prepay phone, and the pre-minute
> rate isn't much less than roaming.

Agreed. You can buy a used phone for what it costs to rent one for a



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