International calling: the big weak spot in iPhone service
March 19, 2008

In planning for a trip to Europe a few months ago, I found that one of the biggest weak points in the iPhone package is the cost of international calling and data services on the AT&T network partners.

If you don't do a little pre-trip planning, as soon as you get off the plane in another country and start using the phone, you will start ringing up enormous charges.

Voice: At the moment, there is no way to get really good per-minute rates for calling with an iPhone, until someone comes up with an iPhone application that really does SKYPE well. Even with AT&T's "World Traveler" package (not to be confused with "World Connect"), you only save 20-30 cents/minute, and the per minute charge can remain quite high - often a dollar or more per minute. Still, it is worth the $5.99/month.

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Posted by ellen at March 19, 2008 11:07 PM

Be sure to wade through AT&T's rate chart to find your destination's international roaming rate: Click here to view

Data: Ever since the first iPhone users were shocked by data roaming charges in the thousands, Apple has shipped the iPhone with data roaming OFF. Don't turn it on! The data roaming charges for internet use abroad are prohibitive. You can sign up for various sized discount data packages, but figure out realistically how much you are likely to use before purchasing one.

Opening an email with a 5 megapixel picture in it, or downloading a 3 minute video on YouTube, each takes about 2MB of data, which would cost about $40.00 at normal data-roaming rates, according to Apple.
This puts AT&T's data plans into perspective - normal use could still bankrupt you with overage charges:

  • $24.99/month: 20MB Data Global Add-On gives you 20MB of usage within over 65 countries
  • $59.99/month: 50MB Data Global Add-On gives you 50MB of usage within over 65 countries
  • $119.99/month: 100 MB Data Global Add-On1 gives you 100MB of usage within over 65 countries
  • $199.99/month: 200 MB Data Global Add-On1 gives you 200MB of usage within over 65 countries

Apple suggests turning off automatic email checking and checking it manually as an additional savings - and you may not want to check whichever accounts get the most junk mail.

So, if you want to use the internet features of the iPhone, (which, let's face it, are most of the fun) it's best to stick to wifi hotspots while overseas. However don't assume wifi will be working well in the hotels, so have a backup. Sometimes the wifi signal can be poor or nonexistent, so you may need to fall back on a laptop with ethernet cable.


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