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Italian Cell Phones

Sebastian from www.cellularabroad.com

Also see Pauline's Notes on Cell Phones.

Talk Abroad Europe Cell Phone

In the mid 90s, when it was still a novelty to have a cell phone, occasionally someone I would know would pretentiously display his new toy expecting, perhaps, admiration or compliments or who knows what. Particularly if it were a friend, I would nonchalantly inform them that in Italy, as well as many other parts of the world, even 8 year olds have their own cellular phones. Even now when I convey this information to someone they are somewhat incredulous - at least initially and until I explain how and why that is possible.

First and foremost, in Italy, as well as virtually the rest of Europe, not to mention many other parts of the globe, incoming cell phone calls are 100% free. Also, since you can also pre-pay your calls, you can control how much money you want to invest in the outgoing call time without worrying about receiving unexpectedly high bills. You can also continue to receive incoming calls with zero remaining credit.

Therefore, you can safely give your child a phone with either a low amount of credit or even no credit at all and he or she can still receive your calls. So, who cares what 8 year olds do with cell phones in Italy? Probably not many, but what is interesting is that you too, as a traveler to Italy, can take advantage of this innovative system. No longer is cellular communication in Italy a luxury only for the rich and famous tourist, or the jet-lagged and tired businessman.

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About Italian Cell Phones

It works like this. In Italy, as well as in 193 other countries around the world, the predominant cellular system is called GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). GSM cell phones allow you to slide in a SIM card (Subscriber Identity Module) in order to get service. Therefore, you can purchase a prepaid Italian SIM card, slip it into a compatible worldwide GSM phone, and, without signing any contracts, get Italian cell phone service. Besides getting free incoming calls, you can call the United States or Canada for about $0.68 per minute and make domestic calls for as low as $0.16 per minute. This certainly beats paying the $1 or more per minute that cell phone rental companies and domestic providers charge you.

The quality of the service in Italy is exceptional and there is coverage throughout the peninsula and the islands. In fact, some carriers in the US, including T-Mobile, Cingular and AT&T have adopted the GSM system. Still, the coverage in Italy is better than what it is domestically due to the fact that the Italian telecommunication providers have invested enough resources in the technology and towers that there are very few spotty areas.

Using Your US GSM Phone in Italy

So does that mean that if you are a T-Mobile or other GSM subscriber you can use your phone in Italy? Yes and no. Yes, because you can use your T-Mobile phone and T-Mobile service (and pay T-Mobile roaming prices) and no because you can't simply put in an Italian SIM card and take advantage of the low rates and free incoming calls. Also, you need a tri-band phone even to roam on your current GSM provider's network. In the US, providers have decided to use a different GSM frequency than the rest of most parts of the world (1900 Mhz as opposed to 900 and/or 1800 Mhz).

Many US World Phones are "Locked"

Many domestic GSM providers now offer tri-band phones that allow you to roam on their networks overseas. You cannot, however, take out your domestic chip and insert an Italian one. International roaming is a considerable part of domestic providers' revenue so they "lock" their tri-band phones. That means that, even though cell phones come out of the factory compatible with any SIM card in the world, domestic providers manipulate the phones they sell so that they will only accept their own SIM cards. Perhaps if they allowed free incoming calls in the United States, 8 year olds here too could have cell phones thus enlarging the market so providers wouldn't fell the necessity to try to squeeze us as much - but that's another issue. Theoretically, US providers will unlock your tri-band GSM phone. I say theoretically because I have tried this and I can assure you that the carriers are reluctant to do so.

Purchase an Unlocked World Phone

Luckily, unlocked tri-band phones are available for purchase. You can purchase one through vendors that are not directly affiliated with the GSM providers, or online, or in most countries, overseas. I would recommend purchasing one online through a reputable vendor since, with the exception of a few places such as Hong Kong, you are not likely to save much by buying one overseas. Once you have an unlocked phone, you can easily slip in different SIM cards for the different countries to where you will be traveling.

Note that dual-band 900/1800 phones are significantly cheaper then tri-band phones with the same coverage throughout Europe, Asia and Africa.

Italian SIM Cards

Italian SIM cards, as well as tri-band GSM cell phones, are available online through www.cellularabroad.com. You may be able to pick one up in Italy as well saving you some money but you are supposed to be an Italian resident in order to purchase one. Sometimes shop owners will close an eye to this regulation and sell you one anyway. However, if you pick up an Italian SIM card prior to your trip, not only will you know your number before you leave but you will be set up to start making calls as soon as you get off the plane.

In sum, it is now affordable to have a cell phone for use in Italy. The quality and coverage are exceptional and the rates are very low. Plus, you don't have to be 8 years old in order to figure out how this all works!

Also see Pauline's Notes on Cell Phones.

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