Roaming on the cheap

Following an appeal from readers for more advice on how to save money when using mobile phones abroad, Bill Pechey returns to the subject of roaming charges

Since I wrote about roaming in the 8 January issue of IT Week, several people have contacted me wanting more information about saving money when using mobile phones abroad.

Let's first take the case of the road warrior who has a mobile constantly switched on so they can be contacted at any time. There's not much scope for savings here except for examining the roaming charges for the networks in each country and making sure that the cheapest ones are on the preferred list in the SIM, and the more expensive ones are deleted.

If you're happy to have a different phone number when roaming you may benefit from getting a SIM card from Mint Telecom, but check the savings in those places that you visit most. You can hide the different phone number from your callers by diverting your calls but the cost of this may wipe out the saving.

The one thing that irritates me most about roaming charges is having to pay a lot for incoming calls. If someone calls me I think of the pounds clocking up and worry that it's out of my control.

This problem can be solved fairly satisfactorily by diverting all incoming calls to voicemail. When a message is left, the system sends you an SMS and, if your phone is switched on, you usually get the notification almost immediately.

You are then in control and can retrieve the message and decide if and when to return the call. If you are a Vodafone subscriber you have the additional option to send *#147#, which displays the time, date and number of the last call received and can work almost everywhere when roaming.

If you forget to divert your calls to voicemail before leaving the UK, you can do it from abroad by entering the USSD string **21*voicemail number#. This can be cancelled by sending ##21#. You can find out your voicemail number by sending *#62#.

Making outgoing calls when roaming can also be very expensive. Again, a SIM from Mint Telecom can help but larger savings can often be made by using a telephone calling card from a low-price carrier. However, check the rates carefully because they vary tremendously. These cards work by using a freephone number in each country that connects you to the operator's system back home. Some networks won't connect freephone numbers, or will charge for them, but it's usually possible to find a network in each country that will work and not charge.

You have to do a bit of research into tariffs to make good decisions about roaming. The easiest way to find the information is to look on the Web site of your mobile network. It's also a good idea to look at the Web sites of the foreign networks ­ you can find their URLs from the GSM Association site.

Using these techniques will cut the cost of your voice calls when roaming but will, of course, reduce the revenue of your mobile operator. This applies just a little more competitive pressure and could help to bring the tariffs down. Well, we can all dream, can't we?

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