Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dual-Number (U.S. and UK) Cell Phones

We’ve long been fans of pay-as-you go international SIM chips for GSM cell phones. The two basic types are single-country chips and multi-country international chips. Our experience has been good with single-country chips, and mixed with international chips.

Now, Telestial (one of the largest U.S. retailers of chips and phones) is offering a dual-number (U.S. and UK) international chip. There are 3 Passport options, but the Telestial website does not have an easy comparison chart – you’ll have to look at each offering, and do the pencil-on-the-napkin comparisons yourself. (We’ve had mixed experiences with Telestial. A few years ago, a chip we purchased [no longer offered] worked poorly, couldn’t be topped up, and we couldn’t contact the Telestial customer service number from overseas. But, upon our return, they did send a replacement chip with additional call credit at no charge.)

The big advantage to this type of phone is that it should be cheaper for your U.S. contacts to call your U.S. number than calling an international number. From an outgoing call standpoint, the call charges seem a little high in most countries – depending on which of the 3 Passport chips you choose – but not terrible. (A lot cheaper than most of Mobal’s outgoing call costs. Mobal may have the broadest country-coverage, but their rates are pretty darn high. We keep it in our bag as an emergency-only chip.)

If you’re seriously interested in a multi-country SIM, it’s worth your while to check out PrePaidGSM for a good comparison of the many offers available. (The site also offers extensive info on single-country SIMs.) Note, too, that many international SIMs are call-back type systems, where you place a call, wait for your phone to ring, then answer and are connected. If you find this cumbersome, dig deeper into each offering to see how it operates.

Bottom line, the Telestial Passport could be an interesting international communications tool. Until we dig a little further, we’ll probably continue to stick with single-country SIMs for our overseas travels, unless we were planning that around-the-world trip, when a multi-country chip would be invaluable.

UPDATE 17 May 2009:
It looks like several international-roaming cell operators will be rolling out dual U.S./UK SIM chips. These products are all still very new. Our suggestion: Wait. Any problems with the new chips should work themselves out in 6 months or so. As always, we suggest checking the website for the best unbiased info.

Another warning: Single-country cell operators (Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, etc.) seem to generally be staying in business. The international-roaming operators come and go. We’ve seen United Mobile (once universally touted as “the best”), 09, Yackie, and others disappear in just the last year. Again, buyer beware.