Sprint’s New International Plan Isn’t For Everyone

Sprint has always been the only carrier out of the four major carriers in the US (Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile being the others) not to have a viable international roaming plan (and not that the other’s are a great value to begin with). In the past, the only travelers who would chose to roam with Sprint would be business travelers who simply don’t care what the rates are or tourist who were unaware of the rates. So, while the new Sprint roaming plan is certainly not for everyone, it is a step in the right direction. The deal is this – free texts and 2G data roaming and calls are just $0.20 per minute. First, let’s start by saying what is wrong with it. Only eight countries, including, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Russia, South Korea, Spain and the United Kingdom are even effected by the new plan. If you are traveling elsewhere, you are out of luck. This is inevitably going to cause a ton of issues. Here is a scenario. Your daughter is going to Spain so she is good, right? Only as long as she stays in Spain and remembers not to use is if she happens to go elsewhere. If she decides to change her plans and go to Portugal for a day or two, she will be paying – get this – $1900.00 for 100mb of data. In addition, while in Spain, her data speed would be 2G which is virtually useless for anything but checking emails.

Having said this, if you are clear on the offering and are a disciplined traveler, the new plan has its advantages. Texting is included and the calls are affordable. However, if you want to use the internet, you should upgrade to one of the 3 data plans (at 3G speeds). In particular, the 500mb data plan for 2 weeks is not a bad offer.
In sum, if you are traveling to the above listed countries and ONLY to the above listed countries, Sprint’s plan could be the way to go

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Cellular Abroad’s Top 10 Travel Apps for 2015

According to a recent survey, actually putting your smartphone next to your face to make and receive calls is number 6 on the list of what people do with their phones. if you are traveling, with all the great travel apps available, using your phone “as a phone” probably wouldn’t even make the top 10. We speak to travelers every day who tell us about the apps they use and sometimes we offer them suggestions about a few of our own.

Here are the top 10 apps as compiled by Cellular Abroad with a little help from our friends (Cellular Abroad’s loyal customers):

Google Maps

Ever the classic, what better way is there to navigate around in a city you have never been? With Google Maps, you will never get lost – although there is something to be said for wandering around aimlessly through the center of Rome.

Uber

If you have every used Uber (or their competitor, Lyft), you already know how useful they are for getting around but not everyone knows that they are available in many major cities across the globe. One word of caution is that the rates can be significantly higher than here in the US.

Map my Walk

This is more of a fun app than a travel tool but, since we tend to walk a lot while traveling, some travelers like to keep track of their mileage. You’ll be surprised how many miles you walk while on vacation. Some pedometer apps will also give you other information such as vital signs which can come in handy if you feel your blood pressure going through the roof when admiring the artwork at the Louvre.

WhatsApp

Extremely popular in Europe, this app is gaining popularity in the US and Canada as well. WhatsApp lets you send messages, videos and pictures for free with WiFi or for practically nothing through mobile data. The only caveat is that both sender and recipient have to have this app downloaded on their device.

Yelp and Trip Advisor

Entries 5 and 6 are similar in the sense that they give you user based ratings and reviews of restaurants, hotels and even businesses. This is a useful app when you happen upon a restaurant and aren’t sure if you should take the plunge. Download them both if you can.

Google Translate

This is an extremely useful tool, particularly for travelers heading off the beaten path. Google Translate translates to and from 90 languages. You can even take a picture of a sign or anything with words on it and Google Translate will translate it into the language of choice.

Weather Channel App

Picture this: you are out on an all day excursion visiting a castle outside of Paris. All of a sudden in the afternoon, it starts to rain? What do you do? Well, if you have a weather app you open the umbrella you brought with you since you came prepared. It’s free, it takes 30 seconds to download…why not?

XE.com

XE.com gives you currency exchange rates for just about any currency out there. You can calculate exactly how much that Murano glass trinket is going to cost you (or you can do what most people do which is to approximate the cost based on knowing the exchange rate give or take a few points).

jet interior

Victor

Last and for most people, least, there’s Victor. Victor is the to private jets what Uber is to taxicabs. Sound expensive? Good intuition but…if you are booking a jet that accommodates 10 people and you are 8-10 people (and you are not a starving student back packing your way around Europe) Victor may be an acceptable option. Not for you? Well, not for most of us. And that’s why Vic is at number 10 on Cellular Abroad’s list of the top travel apps for 2015.

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New Unlimited Calling Plan for Travelers to Australia

 

Cell phone users in the United States have grown accustomed to being able to use the phones without concern for how many calls, text messages and, in most cases, data usage they will consume. They know that they pay X amount to Verizon, AT&T or however the carrier may be and that’s it. However, traveling outside of the US is another story. Roaming with your US carrier can be prohibitively expensive. Sure, they offer packages for calls and data but it still is expensive and you have to be extremely vigilant about exceeding the package lest you get hit by unreasonably high overages. While we use our phones pretty much in a carefree fashion back home, when we go on vacation, having to be on top of your cell phone usage is just an added stress that many travelers don’t need. Now, at least for travelers who need a cellular plan for Australia, things have changed.

We now offer a solution for Australia that offers unlimited calls and texts within Australia and unlimited calls back to the United States and Canada. In addition, the plan comes with 2GB of data at 3G speeds. While 2GB is not unlimited, it is more than enough data for most people.

So how do you get this service to work on your device and will it work on your device? That is a good question. So good that it requires a drawn out answer.

If your current cell phone is unlocked (most aren’t) AND globally compatible (most are), you can just buy an Australian SIM card before you leave and put it in your phone. Check with your carrier to see if your device is unlocked or if they can unlock if for you (note: iPhone 5 phones from Verizon are now always unlocked). Also, there are 3 sizes of SIM cards, standard, micro and nano so make sure you get the right size for your device. Why are there 3 SIM card sizes? Well, not to be cynical but a good possibility is that the carriers are trying to throw just another curve ball at travelers who want to get local SIM cards for their travels. It is unlikely that they are trying to make the the SIM card size smaller so that they can add more components to the inside of the devices they sell as the differences between standard, nano and micro SIMs is literally measurable in millimeters.

if you discover that your phone is locked or for some reason you just don’t want to have to deal with swapping out the SIM card, you can also rent or buy a cell phone before you leave. A lot of people like having an inexpensive cell phone regardless of whether or not their cell phone would work with a local SIM. One advantage is that you don’t have to worry about your $700 iPhone being stolen or you being targeted as a “rich American.” This is a bit less relevant for Australia but if you were traveling to a developing country and your phone is worth a year’s salary, you might want to cheapen yourself down a bit to local standards. Nowadays, you can even get a cell phone with internet capabilities for less than $100. My recommendation to travelers, and one that I do myself, is to travel anyway with 2 phones. There is nothing worse than having an issue with a cell phone and being miles away from a cell phone store when you are overseas. A little bit of redundancy while traveling never hurt anybody.

In sum, when most people travel, they want to have the best experience at the lowest price. The Lebara SIM card for Australia is a perfect solution for anyone going to Australia needing a reliable and affordable plan for calling and data.

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Sprint’s International Roaming Plan is a Rip-Off

I usually do not like to characterize things in a blunt, negative light, preferring instead to outline the facts and helping people to understand my conclusion in a more diplomatic way but…I will say it again; Sprint’s international roaming plan is beyond a rip-off. I have tried to play devil’s advocate and, to Sprint’s credit, when I called Sprint’s customer service, the rep basically told me, “don’t do use data while roaming” when I was gathering information for this blog but the fact is, if they didn’t want people to use it, they would not make it available. This reminds me of a couple of years ago when a customer of ours used a data roaming plan with T-Mobile that had affordable (sort of) rates in X amount of countries but if you went to country Y, you would be blasted by huge roaming rates. So, an executive went on a business trip and went to a handful of countries where the rates were low but also went to one country that wasn’t covered in the T-Mobile plan and sure enough, his bill was $38,000. Now the reason this is a rip-off is that T-Mobile had the capability of blocking those countries where the roaming rates were high.

Here is a break down of Sprint’s roaming rates but first, I want to bring to your attention what Sprint advertises on their website regarding their data plan. This is directly copied and pasted from Sprint’s website:

Get discounted rates
Last Updated: Jun 27, 2014

Don’t miss a thing when traveling abroad. Add an international data pack to your domestic data plan for your smartphone, tablet, mobile broadband card or hotspot device and check emails and surf the web.
International Data Pack Add-on

Description

 

Multiple Country Data Roaming
Multi-Country Pack 40MB $40 85MB $80

Usage Overage Rate per MB $10/MB

 

As you can see, Sprint offers a couple of bundles which are expensive and extremely low on capacity. If you go over, the slug you with a whopping $10 per MB charge. To put that in perspective, there are about 1000 (one-thousand) MB in 1GB. So, one 1GB with Sprint is $50,000 – plus tax. AT&T charges about $150 for 1GB, Verizon $250 for a GB, T-Mobile only offers 2G and Cellular Abroad charges vary but here are a couple of example rates:

Italy – 10GB $99
France – 5GB$69
UK 3GB $69

How come our rates are so low, Verizon’s and AT&T’s rates are relatively low yet Sprint’s rates are so high? It certainly cannot be attributable to buying power as Sprint is probably 10,000 times larger than Cellular Abroad and not far behind Verizon and AT&T.  As far as I can see, their strategy is to have way fewer customers that use data than their competitors but to make a killing on those few. In addition, unlike their competitors, they have tended to focus more on business users and large corporations that are not as likely to care about the huge fees and/or a huge bill will just get lost in the shuffle. In any event, do yourself a favor and arm yourself with enough knowledge so that you are not one of the unlucky victims of Sprint’s super rip-off rates.

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New Plan for Travelers to France

It still surprises me that anyone would roam with their US carrier to France or anywhere else. I know that all the carriers in the US have data and voice bundles and that T-Mobile has free 2G speed data but here is the problem – why would you want to spend a (at least) couple of hundred dollars with AT&T, Verizon or Sprint and spend your time on your vacation worrying about monstrous overages? Why would you frustrate yourself with T-Mobile’s 2G speeds (aka GPRS – remember that? from 10 years ago??). Don’t you WANT to use your cell phone to send videos, use Google Maps, Skype and do everything you do at home and perhaps even more? Well…maybe not since some people are going to France specifically to get away from all this but…for those who do, well, now you can.

The new plan for France offers 5GB of data at 3G speeds and unlimited texting and calling within France plus calls back to the US for just pennies plus free incoming calls plus you can even add a US phone number. With all these pluses you would expect to be hundreds of dollars but no, for around $100 you can use your phone almost as much as you want. Make sure your phone is unlocked and get a SIM card for France from Cellular Abroad.

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“Newer” and “Better” Cell Phones Are Often Neither of The Two

 

I knew this would happen. I finally had to “upgrade” my Blackberry Bold because the charging port wouldn’t fully charge my phone. As I tell people all the time, a “better” and “newer” phone isn’t necessarily better.

When I got my new Q10 from Blackberry (paid full price by the way so I got an unlocked phone of course), I starting playing around with it but after 10 minutes and needing to actually use my phone, I put my SIM card back in the other defective phone as it still worked, although it wouldn’t charge properly. After a few days, I tried the new phone again for about 20-30 minutes and, once again, I gave up since I didn’t have the time to figure this new phone out. For the next month, I kept using my defective phone and would just keep a wall charger handy. When it finally went 100% kaput and I was forced to use the new and improved phone, that is when I experienced the same thing that I tell people all the time when they ask me, “what is the best phone?”

First, I find the new Blackberry not only counterintuitive but it is also very easy to accidentally call people or go into applications I don’t want to be in because of the hair trigger on the touch screen. I am still trying to figure out how to do basic things. Granted, I never read the owner’s manual but I never have had to. I will eventually figure out everything that I need to do with the phone so I am not too worried about that.

My main beef is this. I drive to and from work every day and I have a very good sense of where the dead zones are – at least were on my older Blackberry Bold. Now however, the amount of dead zones has easily doubled and it rarely works in the office – as opposed to the “barely works” in the office of the previous phone.

This is frustrating because, contrary to many people I know, I actually use the phone, well, as a phone. In fact, I was almost temped to go the iPhone route but, I know that reception is a big issue for the iPhone as well.

 

The moral of the story is this; next time you “upgrade” your phone, consider what you are really using it for. If you do need a higher resolution screen, more memory or better picture resolution, usually a newer phone (unless it is on the low end of the spectrum in terms of price) is better. However, if you need it because you want something easier to use or better reception, usually a newer phone is not “better.” How do you know if the quality of the reception or decrease of dropped calls is better? Go online, read the reviews and then get a phone with a generous return policy.

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Take a Selfie Contest

That’s right, even the Pope is in on the act. And if it’s good enough for the Pope, it’s good enough for many of us – especially if you can win an iPad. Submit your photo to support@cellularabroad.com before September 15 for a chance to win an iPad. Our panel of 5 unbiased, nothing to do with Cellular Abroad, travel experts will select a winner. Or else….the first one to submit a selfie with the Pope wins – and we don’t mean with you in St. Peter’s Square and Pope Francis a mile away addressing the crowd from the Pope’s balcony! In addition, we will need proof that it is you and not some random person from Google images.

OK, we don’t really expect to see a selfie with the Pope. Besides, even a selfie with some random nun would probably be a good contender. Just be sure to submit the images to us before September 15, 2014 in order to participate.

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How to Use Your iPad or PC Abroad

Many of us, some more than others, are almost attached at the hip with some sort of tablet or PC. I can only concur – leaving home without my iPad just wouldn’t be the same. In fact, the first thing I do when I wake up is make coffee and sip it while catching up on significant (ok, I admit it, at times, less than significant) events. When I travel, I need to have my iPad with me more than ever. Whether it’s showing friends and family neat tricks (“hey, there’s my house!) on Google Maps or making a call via Skype to Bank of America to verify “suspicious” charges to reactivate my credit card, to finding out what is happening back home, I find myself using my iPad multiple times per day. In fact, it’s my lifeline back home and to the office.

While I am no Jeff Bezos, long ago I adopted something I read that Mr. Bezos does (or at least did at the time). Almost every day, I will answer a customer service call or a sales call here at Cellular Abroad. I do this in order to stay grounded with real customers’ needs. If there is one thing that stands out when I speak to our customers, many of whom travel on an annual basis, is that there are always stories of unexpected circumstances such as, “the wifi in the hotel was not available” or “I was on the phone for hours to resolve an issue – thank God I had your phone.” The point I am trying to make is that when you are on vacation or even traveling for business, the last thing you want to do is find yourself in a position where you are without internet access or affordable cellular access. Here’s what you can do to ensure that you indeed do have access to the internet on your device.

Free is Good
Yes, free is good but not necessarily great. The old adage, “you get what you pay for” is very often true. But, if your budget only permits or at least prefers free then here is what you can do in order to best take advantage of this. First, check with the hotel and ask them if they do have free internet access. Also, ask them how reliable it is. I had a friend who was told that there was free internet at her hotel in Sicily. Indeed, it was free…during the hour or two that it was typically working during the course of a day. She ended up spending hundreds of dollars having to get a taxi twice a day to a neighboring town in order to access her emails work emails. Not fun for her and it ended up being anything but free.
If the hotel staff tells you that it isn’t reliable or even if they claim it is, ask them where there is wifi availability in the surrounding area. Usually there are restaurants or cafe’s that have wireless access. If you can live with not having to have access to the internet anytime, anywhere then this may work for you.

Plan B
Again, not every place does have free wifi or reliable free wifi. Plus, even if they do, you may need to access bank accounts or other accounts that require a secure connection, one that free wifi cannot offer. In this case, here are a couple of options.
If you are traveling to just one country, say only to Italy or only to Spain, AND your device accepts a SIM card, get a SIM card with a data plan for that country. If you are traveling to multiple countries, you can still get a SIM card but you will pay a little more. Either way, you can get data plans for small fractions of what it would cost to roam with an US provider. However, if your device is not 3G and does not allow you to put in a SIM card, your best bet is rent or buy a MiFi hotspot…and that brings us to plan C.

Plan C

I am a big fan of Plan C and based on all the positive reviews we have, for example, on our Italy MiFi Rental, I am not the only one. There are several things I really like about the MiFi. First, it is very easy to use and works with any device. All you have to do is to power it on, put in the security password and you and up to 5 others can go online. In addition, it is portable, works anywhere and is secure.  If you read the reviews for the Italy MiFi Rental, you will get some ideas of what people have done with their MiFi. Some of my favorites are using Google Maps in their rental card on their iPad to navigate their way around and video Skyping with their parents while running with the bulls in Pamplona. Let’s see the Kardashians top that!

While the MiFi is not dirt cheap, by comparison to other solutions, it is a great deal. For example, and using Italy as a comparison (which is however one of our better deals), just 3G data, without the device, with the least expensive US carrier for 10GB of data would be well over $1,000.00 whereas a two week trip to Italy with our device would run you about $150.

The last thing I would like to address is that almost everyone traveling has unique needs when it comes to cell phones and data. Some people just need something for emergencies, others to make a few calls and maybe check an email or two and still others need to send huge files of video back to the US for a Rick Steve’s travel show for example.  My recommendation is to call Cellular Abroad, describe your needs to us (and even me personally) and we will explain the best options – even if it has nothing to do with a product we carry.

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Your Smartphone is a Powerful Travel Tool

Samsung Galaxy S5

Ironically, there are many articles online telling travelers to turn off their phone, particularly the data portion of your phone, when traveling overseas. Even some of the carriers will tell you to turn it off as much as possible and try to rely on wifi. True, you will save money if you don’t use your phone. In fact, if you really want to save money, just stay home! Recommendations like this are as useful as telling someone who is going to a 3 Michelin Star restaurant to have only bread, butter and water. Isn’t it specifically when you are traveling that you would need to use your phone as a travel tool?

Nowadays, there are so many amazing things that you can do with your smartphone. It’s not just about calling home or checking your emails anymore. With a smartphone, you can truly enjoy your trip even further. Here are just a few ideas.

 

Google Maps

Many people are familiar with Google Maps. They help us find out where we are and help us to get to where we need to go. In fact, many people use Google Maps on an everyday basis. Imagine traveling to a city that you have never been before. Try getting from the Vatican to the Spanish Steps by foot without using either a map or GPS on your phone. A 30 minute walk could literally take hours if you had to rely on asking people directions every 5 minutes.

Language Translation Apps

This is one type of app that just now is beginning to gain traction with the travel community. This goes a big step beyond just typing something into your phone and using Google Translate. With a language translation app you can literally speak into your phone and have it translate into one of many languages. The app will translate what you said and speak it out in another language. While not perfect, I have had good luck with the Voice Translator App from Google.

Trip Advisor

What I really like about Trip Advisor is that you get to see pictures and read reviews from real travelers and not from marketing professional (although I am sure that a few posts slip through the cracks). If you are not familiar with Trip Advisor, it’s a site that lets users comment on and post pictures of hotels, bed and breakfasts’, restaurants (and more). You can also check pricing and book hotels.

 

Yelp and Zagat

A similar site is Yelp. Yelp’s focus is mainly on restaurants and business. Zagat is another great site for determining how an restaurant may be. They have been around for years and a probably the most discerning and the most reputable of the three in terms of reliability.

 

 

Google

How many times have you just “Googled” something to get more information on it? Chances are, when you travel abroad, you will come across a church or a building or something that you have no idea about its history and want to know more. Being able to have information at your fingertips is extremely useful while traveling.

 

Uber

Tourist tend to do a lot of walking with the occasional bus ride or taxi ride. I hardly every take a bus because I am just not fond of them and I either walk or take a taxi. However, if you have ever tried to hail a cab in New York City on a Friday night in the rain, you know that it’s not always easy. Uber is a site that connects you with a towncar driver. The great thing about it is that you can see if a driver is available in your area and he can use the tracking function on your device to see where you are. This works great in the US and is usually about the same price as a cab far. I have used on several occasions and they have really come to the rescue. Many larger cities in Europe offer Uber but, from what I have seen, the rates are more expensive than back home. Still, it’s always good to have a back up solution.

As you can see, there are many ways that a smartphone can come in handy when you are traveling internationally. The problem is that when you need free wifi, it is usually not available and if you roam with your US or Canadian carriers network, they will charge you an arm and a leg. The best solution is to use another provider, like Cellular Abroad. In many cases, you can literally spend 1/10 or even less of what it costs to roam with your usual provider. If you need to retain your usual number, this too can be done (although many travelers want to relax and don’t want to use this option. Usually, we will give our customers a local SIM card with two phone numbers, a local number and a US number. If you need data, and more and more people do, you can add an affordable data bundle and not only check your emails but communicate with the locals, see where you are going and where you should eat and shop.

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Unlocking Your AT&T iPhone

There is almost no way around it, if you want to have your AT&T iPhone unlocked, you need to go through the proper channels. The proper channels are through AT&T and AT&T has a few very strict and rigid rules regarding unlocking an iPhone.  Indeed, many people are frustrated regarding the restriction of being able to do with what they please with what they deem ‘”their” phone and are moving away from  reduced upfront costs but 2-3 year contractual obligation model and biting the bullet and paying the unsubsidized cost to own a phone free and clear.

Currently, this is what you need to do to get your AT&T iPhone unlocked. First, you must be a customer or a former customer of AT&T and you must be in good standing. Second, your phone must be payed off. Most iPhones are being subsidized by crediting the customer per month for 2 years and therefore, it takes 2 years to pay off an iPhone. Before the 2 years is up, customers cannot have their iPhones unlocked. Therefore, if you take a trip overseas, you cannot simply purchase a local SIM card from Cellular Abroad or when you arrive and expect it to work with your phone.

AT&T customers are allowed to unlock up to 5 phones per year. That does not mean that they can unlock ANY phone. For example, you cannot purchase a phone from Ebay and unlock it simply because you have an AT&T account or ask someone who does to unlock it for you. AT&T requires additional information including what the phone number was that pertained to the phone as well as the last four digits of the social security number.

Another way to unlock an iPhone is to go online and pay a vendor to unlock it for you. Today’s going rate is $100-$150 to factory unlock it. Factory unlocked means that AT&T has provided the unlock code for the phone and that once unlocked it will not be unlocked again. I tried to find out how companies like this are able to obtain the AT&T unlock code and, although I was unable to find out, my suspicion is that they have someone who works at AT&T who doesn’t mind risking his job to make a quick buck.

Alternatively, you can purchase a phone directly from Apple, or from someone who did, that has never been locked. While the upfront cost for an originally unlocked cell phone is several hundred dollars higher than buying one from AT&T, there are several benefits such as being able to change carriers at will in the US or when traveling abroad. In the US there are scores or MVNOs who  compete for the best rates. An MVNO is short for mobile virtual network operator and is essentially a smaller provider who uses the same network as a larger provider such as AT&T or T-Mobile and establishes their own rates.  Once such company is Lyca Mobile. Currently, they offer plans with unlimited calls and texts and some data for just $16 per month. While MVNOs are not for everyone, they are certainly for some and the possibility of being able to have more options as opposed to less options is certainly a good thing.

Consumers are becoming fed up with not having choices and the proof of this is how successful their current trend of BYOP or bring your own phone is becoming. This allows consumers not only to use whatever provider they want and switch if and when they find a better deal not only in the US but while traveling abroad.

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