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Unlocked and loaded: International roaming adventures with a GSM smart phone and pay-as-you-go SIM

By Francis Moran

Let me tell you about my amazing adventures last week with an unlocked GSM smart phone loaded with a pay-as-you-go SIM.

As anyone who has travelled with a cell phone, Blackberry or smart phone can testify, using a mobile device outside your home market can be a financially harrowing experience. Typical charges I’ve incurred for using my Treo in the U.S. or abroad have been $1/minute for a local call and $3/minute for a call back home. Even if I carefully manage my calls, there’s still data usage that can be charged at as high as $10/megabit.

Or I could do what countless numbers of travellers are now doing — get my phone unlocked and use a country-specific SIM, the subscriber information module that tells the network everything it needs to know to route calls and data to and from the device.

Unlocking your phone means reprogramming it so it can operate on networks other than the one to which you are chained. (Believe me, I am using the term “chained” advisedly here!) In my case, I had the job done by a very professional crew at a kiosk in the Prudential Center in Boston, where I also picked up loads of advice about the best SIMs to use. Your carrier might agree to unlock your phone but will require you to send it to them and pay them hundreds of dollars for the privilege. The guys at Warlox Wireless did it for $50 in less than 20 minutes.

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