Using an unlocked cell phone in the US

Old Apr 5th, 2007, 12:20 PM
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Using an unlocked cell phone in the US

I know there are a number of other threads on the cell phone subject, but I'm looking for information on buying an unlocked cell phone that will work in the UK/Europe as well as in the US.

I am a light cell phone user at home with an antiquated phone. Since I need a new one, thought I might as well get one that will work elsewhere. My questions are:

1)Is anyone else using an unlocked quad band phone in the US? If yes, which carrier are you using and are you satisfied?

2)Recommendations on where to look for a phone (websites?) and which ones.

2)If this is not a good idea, why?

I know about pay as you go phones for the US, but most of these come with locked phones, not nec. quad band and the cost/minute seems high

Tia for help. I may also post this on the US board, but thought it would be the folks who travel to Europe who might be most likely to have the info I'm looking for.
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 01:09 PM
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Our carrier is T-Mobile and our phones can be used in the US or abroad; some are tri band and some are quad band. I believe T-Mobile will only unlock them after an initial period however, maybe six months.
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 01:14 PM
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I got a Cingular pay-as-you-go phone last year, and after calling customer service and getting a real person (about 2 one weekday afternoon) she eventually got me the information necessary for me to fax some one the needed info so that by phone could be unlocked. It didn't cost a cent extra, but it was kind of a hassle. Replacing the sim card with a French one, once in France, was pretty easy -- although I couldn't make out the detailed instructions too well with my spotty French.

There is a $99 phone you can get that can be used everywhere -- Rick Steves recommends it, etc. I think if you do a "search" here on cell phones it will pop up on several threads.
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 01:21 PM
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Hi M,

Before my last trip to Italy, I bought an international (tri band) unlocked cell phone for the trip. Got it from a company in San Diego that was recommended on Slowtrav - Telestial. They send it to you with a pre-paid TIM card (for Italy), or whatever for the appropriate country. You can add minutes over there if needed. Worked great for me and I still like the phone.

I use it here now (very little) with Cingular. I use a pay as you go plan and never use my alloted minutes so they keep rolling over. No contract required though and I just told them I wanted to use my own, existing phone. No problem.

Not thrilled with cell phones in general, they never seem to work when you really need them!

Good luck!
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 01:27 PM
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I don't use my cell phone all that often and always have rollover minutes. I have Cellular..got a triband phone before I left for Paris..my plan was up and I needed a new phone anyway, so got the triband. Signed up for their overseas plan for 5.99 for the month and the calls were .99 per minute. I'm not a big phone talker, my bill was about 60.00 for the 9 days I was there. When I landed in Paris and turned my phone on, it was on the French network. It said France..funny though, at Notre Dam it was a different network. Anyway, I know there is a cheaper way to do all this, but I loved the convenience so was willing to pay for that.
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 01:31 PM
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I bought my unlocked Razor from a trusted seller on Ebay. You can buy a sim card for your destination when you arrive or through your local carrier if you like their plan. We've always bought the card at our destination.

I have a sim card for the states as well. You just switch them out. A phone number is assigned to your sim card so my number in the states is different than my number in the Bahamas or Europe.
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 01:38 PM
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Thank you both. LadyOLeisure, which phone did you get with Cingular and which plan? Are you satisfied with the phone and coverage? Were you able to use the phone in France or not?

I looked at the info on the Rick Steve's reco and it is a great option for traveling, it's not so great for use in the US where you pay $1.50/minute to make a call and $1.75/minute to receive a call.

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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 01:44 PM
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Sorry Dayle and Crefloors I was typing while you were answering. Dayle, it sounds like you're doing what I'm considering--using an unlocked phone with Cingular. I'm a bit confused though when you say you've got a pay as you go plan but never use the alloted minutes. I thought the concept of pay as you go was you only paid for the minutes you use. What am I missing? When you say the phone never works when you need it, do I understand you're having problems with coverage?
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 01:50 PM
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M,

The cell I have is a Sony Erickson and I really like the phone phycially and funtionally.

The plan I have with Cingular automatically debits my credit card each month and I get a new bunch of minutes for $29.00/month. I never do use them all, so they keep accumulating! No contract required, but the bad part is you don't get credit for unused minutes when you end your service. I just didn't want to be locked in to a contract so I chose this plan.

The times when I've needed a cell phone in the US for emergency or just really, really wanted to use it - I either get "no coverage" or "network busy". This has been over the years with various, including the current, carriers.

Had no problems of any kind in Italy....
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 01:59 PM
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My husband has an unlocked Motorola Razr quad-band with a T-Mobile plan. We had to have the plan 90-days before they would give us the code to unlock it.

We have it setup for international and it doesn't cost extra per month to do that. Since we use it here is the US, we were concerned about paying high charges for incoming calls to the voice mail while we were out of the US. We had the voice mail feature turned off so no one leave a message. You pay for receiving and listening to a voice mail which can be quite expensive in some countries.

We use the phone to send and receive text messages. We seldom make calls on that phone.

If we are going to be in one country for awhile, we purchase a SIM card for another phone that we take with us.
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 02:00 PM
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As a very limited phone user I have been happy with my current arrangement. I started out buying an unlocked tri-band phone from e-bay. In the US I used a prepaid T-Mobile card but had problems with the minutes expiring before I used them all and the coverage wasn't very good. In Europe I bought a local SIM card but ended up paying for minutes I neber used. When Mobal started up they were offering a free SIM card so I signed up. You give them a credit card number and they charge you only for the time you use - no minimum, no expiration. The phone works well everywhere I have tried to use it. Mobal claims 160 countries. In the US it works on any available network so if there is any cell signal I can use it. The downside is the $1.50/minute but since I don't use it much it is, for me, cheaper and easier than anything else I have seen.
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 03:07 PM
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OK, so if I take an unlocked quad band phone with me, where do I buy the SIM card? Going to Italy and Paris.
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 04:07 PM
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T-Mobile offers international roaming for 99¢ with no monthly charge.

Give yourself plenty of lead time to get an unlock code from them, though - it took them a month to e-mail mine to me, too late for my trip to Germany.
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Old Apr 5th, 2007, 11:37 PM
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The last reply may be unintentionally confusing...

If you are using the rip off international roaming abilities of the Cingular or T Mobile USA plans (yes I know it's very convenient and yes if you are just using the phone for emergencies it's the quickest and most convenient way of doing things)there is no need to unlock the phone. Simply call Cingular or T Mobile USA and ask that international roaming be turned on. It's always free on T Mobile USA and with Cingular you get a choice, no monthly fee in which case in almost all of Europe the charge is $1.29/minute to both make and receive calls while there and 99/minute with the $5 a month charge...T Mobile USA charges 99/minute to make and receive calls while roaming internationally. The phone, in this case, need not be unlocked....it is only necessary to have an unlocked phone if you are purchasing a local sim card. To the best of my knowledge, but I could be wrong about this (rarely but every so often I am) neither Cingular or T Mobile USA allow international roaming using their prepaid plans. Prepaid in the USA is growing but it is nowhere near as prevelent as it is in Europe.

If you are paying these rip off rates, and they are absolute rip offs; especially due to the fact that charges are raised to the next highest minute and you get billed for a minimum of 2 minutes if a call rolls over to voicemail, you need a phone with at least one of the European frequencies (900 or 1800) which are different from the North American frequencies (850 or 1900)...tri band phones are made either for the European market in which case they lack 850 or the North American market in which case they lack usually 900. Is this a problem when roaming? For the most part no as the phone will seek out an available network on the particular frequencies it operates on...however if you purchase a European tri band then you might have a problem if you purchase a Cingular prepaid plan as Cingular operates in the USA predominantly on 850...they have a little bit of 1900 coverage in some areas where they share towers with T Mobile USA. Similarly if you have a T Mobile prepaid with such a phone, you will be okay through most of the country but there are areas where T Mobile has spotty or non existant coverage in which case they have roaming agreements with companies that operate on 850. But this is not a problem in the big cities.

In a similar vein, if you go the prepaid local sim route in Europe with a North American tri band, you have to check to make sure the carrier you choose is not predominantly 900. For example if you use such a phone in the UK, the carriers to choose are either T Mobile UK or Virgin Mobile (perhaps Orange too)...and not O2 UK or Mobile World. Why? The first two operate on 1800 predominantly with a little bit of 900 service (incidentally Virgin Mobile's coverage is identical to T Mobile UK as they use T Mobile's towers) but O2 (and Mobile World which uses O2 towers and also Mobal which is an O2 rebrand) operate predominantly on 900 and so with a phone lacking 900 you might find it hard to get reception.

The obvious solution to all of these are quad band phones but many of Motorola's quad bands, and they were the first to have them, have gotten very bad reviews in terms of their reception (can't vouch for that, never use Motorola; am most comfortable with Nokias)....

Finally another thought. I find the rates that companies such as telestial charge for the "convenience" of getting a local European or other sim before leaving comes at a very heavy price. the same Irish sim card that cost me €10 with €5 to buy after spending 7 minutes and 41 seconds in the Vodafone store at Dublin airport, costs close to $60 if bought at Telestial. Big deal, I didn't know the number in advance...a quick very cheap text message or e mail to those who need my number and voila done...or one quick trip to an internet cafe to see my voicestick number or,in my case, one quick call to verizon in the USA to set my call forwarding number, and it's done. Nobody needs ot know my Irish mobile number..using Ireland just as an example. Of course there are those who want everything planned to the nth degree in advance and wouldn't dream of losing eight minutes of their precious holiday time to deal with such matters and would rather pay for the "conveniences" noted above. I say fine, to each his or her own. But one should be forewarned of just what you are paying for and what it is costing you.

All the above are just my humble opinions with all due respect to anybody who disagrees and this is not being said condescendingly).
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Old Apr 6th, 2007, 12:30 AM
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In my "humble opinion" one person's (repeatedly-used) "rip-off" is another's "seems-reasonable-to-me" cost.

I have a Motorola quad band which I've used in various non-US locations on Cingular's plan and it has worked fine.

Automatically switches to the local network when I arrive, etc.

I could get something cheaper but have no desire to buy and change SIM cards with the small amount of phone use I do when out of the country.

All a matter of priorities and how much you feel like paying for "convenience."
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Old Apr 6th, 2007, 02:06 AM
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Here's my feeling about the "rip off" operators such as T Mobile are pulling with international roaming...incidentally the eu absolutely has this one nailed correctly and is trying to put an end to some of the outrageous rip off of customers mobile phone companies are doing...

Obstensibly the rationale for international roaming charges is the home network has to compensate the roaming partner for making its facilities available and tht part of the rate is a pass along of this fee. Okay one can understand that. However...

T Mobile US's preferred roaming partner in the UK...get ready for this...is believe it or not T Mobile UK (in Germay, it's T Mobile DE...in Holland it's T Mobile NL)...so when T Mobile UK charges T Mobile US for making its facilities available for a T Mobile US customer to roam on in effect they are taking money from their left pocket (T Mobile US) and putting it in their right pocket (T Mobile UK)...both are wholly owned subsidiaries of T Mobile's parent in German Deutsches Telecom or whatever it is called...and we have to foot the difference...international roaming rates, as the eu has discovered and is workng onimplementing should run about 30/minute...so personally I resent being ripped off this way for the "convenience."

Now what it comes down to, and we've made this point before, is just how you want to use the phone. To some people it's just for emergencies...so what if they pay $50 or $60 for three or four calls. Totally understandable and not a knock on anybody; I look at my cell phone differently and use it extensively while away and if I paid the iunternational roaming rates of the US carrier, a two or three week trip instead of costing me $50 or $60 could run up to $800 or $900 easily...it's sticker shock...it's easy to fall into the trap and come home to a bill with nasty nasty surprises. Others use the phones for business and so what if they run up a $600 bill, they simply charge it to the company..(of course in a way you and I pay for this when the company raises its prices to cover its costs) but again, it's a personal decision and I certainly agree I have no right to tell anybody how to spend their money or to substitue my judgment of the value of convenience over cost.

But after reading n other forums of people coming home from a European trip and complaining about a $600 cell phone bill, I think it is helpful to understand the alternatives...I present the alternatives...you are quite welcome to take my suggestions or not and that's your decision, your right and I would never think of putting anybody down for it.

However I find 21st century technology exciting and in a way fun. It is unbelievable, to me, that I can be sitting in my hotel room in Warsaw, and a person dials my home number and suddenly instantaneously my cell phone is ringing is ringing and when I tell the person I'm in Warsaw they say, you gotta be kidding, it sound's as if you're right next door. But that's me. Others make it clear they view 21st century technology as unnecessary and make comments such as how did we ever survive without cell phones (to which I answer I don't have a bloody clue).

I still think American gsm providers T Mobile US and Cingular rip you off big time with their international roaming rates and I wouldn't use them ever for that.
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Old Apr 6th, 2007, 05:21 AM
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I find that with my usage pattern, T-Mobile International Roaming is the cheapest. For me. Why? Because 99% of my traffic is either e-mail, SMS, Skype, or yahoo.com/voice, and the T-Mobile number is for emergencies only. I pay less per trip than the cost of a SIM.

BTW, to get it activated all you have to do is go to t-mobile.com and check a box.

T-Mobile is doing the right thing (from a capitalism point of view) for charging themselves for your international roaming use of their European facilities. It might be to their advantage to slash their prices to be more commensurate with their costs, but as long as they can get 99¢, that's what they should charge.
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Old Apr 6th, 2007, 06:31 AM
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Thanks to you all!

XYZ
OK, I understand most of what you've said and see you're somewhat of an expert on this subject. I knew from the start I needed a quad band phone but I'm still trying to sort thru

>which phone to buy
>where/from whom to buy it
>which carrier to use in the US

xyz, from what you wrote on another recent cell phone thread (Ebay cell phone question), it sounds like Motorola is the best manufacturer option for a quad band phone that will work everywhere but their voice quality is not good. You say you like Nokia. I have taken an online 'which phone to buy' test and the top result was the Nokia 6133 but this phone evidently doesn't have good battery life. Given that I don't use the phone that often (so it's not top of mind to recharge) this is not a good option for me.
>what other Nokia phones should I look at?
>is the Razr that bad?

Should I forget this idea and just go for the best prepaid phone/plan for the US and worry about Europe separately? Is the quadband requirement hampering my options?


Beachgirl

It sounds like you come the closest to doing what I'm considering.
>So are you happy with your Razor? I've heard here and elsewhere the Razor's are not that well regarded.
>Where/from whom do you buy SIM cards for the US? Which phone provider do you use?

Continued thanks.

Meanwhile, hope someone answers crepes a go go on where to buy her SIM cards.

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Old Apr 6th, 2007, 06:42 AM
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>happy with your Razor?
They were very trendy and every kid used to have (want) one. Get an L6 or L7 and you'll be happy with that descision. On several occasions in Egypt recently, people wanted to buy my L6. They're cheap, still trendy and well built.
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Old Apr 6th, 2007, 07:53 AM
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I got a RAZR based on several user reviews of how tenaciously they hold on to a cell site. I have found this to be true.

The features aren't the worst I've seen, but in my opinion they could design a lot of keystrokes out of some functions.

All in all, it was worth what I paid at wirefly.com ($0 after rebate with a ONE-year T-Mobile contract) - including a Bluetooth wireless headset. Today Wirefly is offering a net price of -$50 (that's minus fifty bucks) for the same setup.
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