• United States
by Mark Lowenstein

International issues are still an Achilles’ heel

Jan 30, 20062 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityTravel Apps

For companies whose workers travel internationally, wireless voice and data access remain an expensive hodgepodge.

If your international requirements are frequent and ongoing, your best options remain the GSM carriers, Cingular and T-Mobile. Most of their devices work anywhere there is GSM coverage, which is the majority of countries.

The main drawback is that GSM service is expensive, averaging $1.49 per minute, often more. Additionally, some features, such as voice mail and Short Message Service, might not be available all the time.

If you are a Sprint or Verizon customer, your options are more limited, because CDMA is not as common outside North America. Each carrier offers a couple of dual-mode devices that switch over to GSM when the subscriber travels abroad. There are also myriad rental programs that attempt to provide some level of number and billing seamlessness for traveling subscribers.

What’s changing in 2006? Options for international travelers are improving modestly:

  • Dual-mode devices for the enterprise. A couple of CDMA-based enterprise devices, likely containing the Windows Mobile operating system, will include GSM capability. The first such device is the recently launched Samsung i830.
  • Improved data access. This is a major focus for Cingular’s HSDPA launch. All HSDPA devices will be quad-band, meaning they will work globally wherever there is GSM coverage. This will include GPRS, EDGE or UMTS data access, depending on the country and the agreement with the operator. The data access will also include PC cards.
  • Some price relief. Cingular recently announced an international roaming package for $5.99 per month, which provides for discounts of an average 30%. It’s better but still not a bargain. Probably the best deal for enterprise users is the $69 BlackBerry plan that includes unlimited international use.
  • Wireless LAN roaming. Operator, notably Sprint and T-Mobile, are expanding the number of agreements with international Wi-Fi hot-spot aggregators. Sprint, for example, has access to more than 25,000 hot spots, many of them international. This can be a very good option for data, especially in major cities.

Users can also start considering alternative options for wireless. For example, to get around prohibitive international roaming fees, some users are downloading a VoIP client onto a Wi-Fi-equipped PDA.

VoIP-based options will expand over the next couple of years, unless operators outside the United States reduce their roaming fees.