I was planning to go on vacation to the UK for about 10 days and so looked for various articles to point me to the most economical way to roam in the UK for three of our family phones running on Android, Blackberry and iPhone. I didn’t find a lot of useful information before going there but learnt some useful information on my trip that I want to share in this blog and hope anyone traveling from the USA to UK will find it useful. I also think the same information will apply to other European countries as well.
So, here are various considerations in making the right decision on selecting your roaming service provider.
- US Mobile Operator’s Roaming Pricing
- Is your handset capable of Roaming?
- Is your handset Carrier Locked?
- Duration of trip
- Voice Roaming
- Data Roaming – Android and iPhone
- Data Roaming – Blackberry
US Mobile Operator’s Roaming Pricing
AT&T, Sprint , T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless all offer international voice roaming and their rates vary from $1 to $2/minute. Additionally, data roaming charges are in the range of $1-$1.50/MB. AT&T used to offer $69/Month unlimited data roaming for Blackberry but it not available anymore on its web site.
Is your handset capable of Roaming?
Most of handsets sold by AT&T and T-Mobile are capable of roaming on most of the networks in the UK and the rest of Europe. For handsets sold by Sprint and Verizon, only quadband 3G handsets are capable of roaming on the European networks. Both Sprint and Verizon offer some Blackberry handsets that are quadband but none of the Android handsets on Sprint and Verizon websites are quadband and so unlikely to be suitable for roaming on GSM networks in Europe.
Is your handset Carrier Locked?
Most US mobile operators lock handsets in such a way that these subsidized handsets only work on their network. However, many operators offer unlock codes with AT&T and T-Mobile providing it free after 3 months of service except on iPhone. The good news for iPhone users is the availability of many public domain and paid tools to do carrier unlock which is not the same as jailbreak. In London, we could get this service from any of the shops selling SIM cards for less than $10.
Duration of trip
If you are going on a business trip for a couple of days and not likely to visit the same country anytime soon, go with the plan offered by your mobile operator as the hassle of going on a pre paid plan is not worth the trouble unless you are going to be on the phone constantly.
If you only care about voice roaming then the best thing to do is to buy any local SIM card. Insert it into your unlocked GSM phone and you are in business. There are many voice plans with calls within UK costing over 25cents/min but offering less than 5cents/min calls to any international location including the US. The only downside is that you will have a new number but for the savings offered, it was worth taking the chance.
Data Roaming – Android and iPhone
I found T-Mobile SIM cards offering data services at a very reasonable price and configured automatically on all three phones I tried it on. On the other hand, O2 card didn’t work on my Android or Blackberry and every time I called the O2 operator, more money was taken out of my pre-paid account.The pre-paid T-Mobile SIM offered almost unlimited weekly data plan for less than $7.
Data Roaming – Blackberry
Most operators in the UK don’t support Blackberry on prepaid and if Blackberry/Outlook integrated email is needed, you have no choice but to stick with your US SIM card and pay for data roaming. However, I could get Internet connectivity on Blackberry and was able to access my Gmail and do browsing on it with T-Mobile SIM card.
If you are going to be roaming in the UK for more than couple of days, it is much more economical to use pre paid SIM than to pay large roaming fees to the US operators with only disadvantage being a new number. For Blackberry users, you can get voice and data roaming but not Blackberry messaging connectivity on a pre-paid SIM. For Android and iPhone users, pre paid SIM is the best economical option and gives you full connectivity at a very reasonable price.