Bon Jour! Do You Want to Know How International Cell Phone Services Work?

As many companies begin outsourcing and growing their business brands globally, having an international cell phone is becoming more and more common for both government and corporate entities. But why oh why does choosing an international phone and plan have to be so darn confusing?

Short and Sweet

In this section we will talk about how your Global Cell Phone service works. More specifically you we'll cover:

* Global Cell Phone Rental Companies
* International Dialing vs. Roaming
* Alternatives to Save Money on Global Roaming

Nice and Slow

It Seemed Like a Good Idea
Once upon a time a 'special' U.S. [insert your own thoughts on this powerful entity here] decided to start a cellular phone company or two or three or six. And without getting too political or controversial, let’s say they decided that in order to have a unique competitive advantage that each of those six cell phone companies would each create their own propriety technology 'incompatible with every darn thing' in the U.S. and internationally.

Well of course that would be an ideal solution if we didn’t want to create a wireless monopoly, which more or less has happened ANYWAY, lol. As it turns out we really challenged the status quo as 85% of the world chose to use another cell phone standard so that even their 'basic' cell phones would more or less be international cell phones by default. This international cell phone standard they created was called GSM (Global System for Mobility). The key word there is ‘Global’ meaning having the ability to travel outside of your land and water locked country. Another interesting thing to note is that these 85% of the countries decided to build a cell phone network with two primary frequencies 900 mHz and 1800 mhz (which if you have ever noticed are the international cell phone frequencies on a U.S. mobile phone). By having these two international cell phone frequencies meant that the vast majority of their cell phones could roam internationally on either of those frequencies depending on which frequency had better coverage. Think of it how in the U.S. we previously had digital and analog phone service so that if you were in urban or populated areas you could receive coverage on digital service and if you traveled to more rural areas you could use the same phone but an analog signal would pick up instead. Having two frequencies is a similar concept.

Should We or Should We Knot?
Well low and behold an original idea came about in the late 90’s from some 'powers that be' here in the United States who had previously shut down Sprint PCS’s (the cellular arm of Sprint telecomm) original GSM network in 1996. While the acronyms are more or less irrelevant now, Sprint was the only one who chose the GSM standard, albeit they chose a frequency that was not an international cell phone frequency, they were on the right track. The old, old ATT and wireless chose TDMA, Verizon chose CDMA, Nextel chose IDEN.

Those same 'powers that be' decided to offer people $200 for their old useless crappy Sprint GSM phones on their soon to be non-existent GSM network. They figured the general public would be more intrigued by getting $200 for an ugly box phone as opposed to question why they were doing it. Seems that nobody ever figured out that the GSM network would soon be brought from the dead under the new name and brand of Voicestream. Remember them? They were known for having the best selection of International cell phones back in the day, but the worst coverage for anyone needing to use their phones here in the states. If people kept their old GSM phone from the Sprint GSM network they could have essentially been getting f.ree unlimited service all this time ;-)

Screw World Standards, Ours Are Better
In the U.S. we chose 1900 mHz for our GSM standard while the rest of the world chose 900 and 1800 mhz, so in essence, the international 'tri band' cell phone was born.

Aside from our primary GSM standard (1900 mHz) here in the U.S. that is once again NOT compatible with the rest of the world we also had multiple proprietary technologies here in the states which were not even compatible with each other. Since the mergers of the ATT/Cingular and Sprint/Nextel we basically have been trying to eliminate the older technologies and simplify the technologies.

So now our primary technologies used in the states are CDMA and GSM. And then the next generation of technology which has been branded 4G (short for '4'th 'G'eneration of Technology) will include Wi-Max (which is a long range version of Wi-Fi...more on that later). WOWIE ZOWIE, all the proprietary technologies and limitations of each, gotta love it huh? Hence this is the reason why if you need international cell phone service you have to get a tri band phone (cell phone with 3 frequencies 900/1800/1900mHz) or quad band (cell phone with 4 frequencies, 850/900/1800/1900) when you travel internationally. You need the U.S. frequencies 1900 mHz or 850 mHz plus the two international frequencies 900 and 1800mhZ. The reason for the 850 mhz is because it provides better reception in Central and South America which use a cellular system more similar to the U.S. in that their technologies only work in South and Central America but not overseas. While they do use an International GSM network in some Central and South American countries, most countries are still using their own Proprietary network 850 mHz which is not compatible with North America or International Countries on either side of the Ocean. Be advised China, Japan and South Korea also have special technologies. So your international cell phone won't necessarily work in those countries either. Tricky, tricky, huh?

Some People Never Learn
Because of our discombobulated technology configuration this also explains why it takes months or years (and in some cases never) for the U.S. to get phones that you see internationally. We do not have the volume and concentration of the cell phones here in the U.S. that they have in all the other international countries combined. It is far less risk if manufacturers purchase the same kind of handset for 85% of the world vs. producing short runs for multiple carriers here. As it is difficult to guess which cell phone company will have the most success with a certain phone is why you often see phones exclusively introduced for one carrier for 120-180 days. It builds up awareness and hype about the product and helps to improve sales in the long run. Kind of like when TGI Friday’s restaurant is the first to offer a new menu item like 'macaroni cheese poppers', doesn't that just sound oh so delicious?...NOT. Either way the company who makes up the products use it to test the market and try to build buzz so that you will ask for it in other corporate retailers and then they will order it once they see the demand. It's all in the marketing and branding my friend.

The low down on international cell phone service:

• You need a phone with the special international cell phone frequencies built-in. It is not a feature and therefore cannot be 'added on' to your service plan.

• Even if the international cell phone frequencies are built in you need to have the international dialing AND roaming activated or enabled to be able to actually use it, meaning, just because your cell phone has the capability to make international calls does not mean if you leave the country it has the capability to receive phone calls internationally.

• When you are outside the U.S. you are paying a much higher per minute rate when you place or receive a call (.99 up to $5.99 per minute). There are a few work around solutions and we will talk about those in 'You Just Had to Ask'.

• You do not have unlimited nights and weekends when you leave the U.S.

• You can keep the same local number you use in the states on your cell phone. The person calling you is not paying anything additional. They are dialing the number locally as they always do but when you answer the phone, you are paying the associated international cell phone roaming charges which ranges from .99 to $5.99 per minute)

You Just Had to Ask

* International Cell Phone Rental Companies
* International Dialing vs. Roaming
* 5 Ways to Save Money on International Cell Phone Roaming

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