Business Today

To roam or not to roam

More Indians than ever before are travelling abroad and taking their phones along. The savvy ones don't go roaming.

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: June 27, 2010

Travelling abroad can be expensive, what with the airfares, the cost of wining and dining, and shopping. Back home after the trip, just when you think you are within budget, comes the unexpected blow: your mobile phone bill, loaded with roaming charges. If you are a frequent traveller, there are ways of keeping this under control.

The first is to get an international card from India using services such as Matrix, Uniconnect or Clay. Matrix, the most popular of them, serves most countries in the world. Sign up with it, and you get a SIM card with a number of the country you are visiting. It also has a "European" card for travel across Europe, and a data connection for those addicted to their BlackBerry and other email devices.

The problem? You have a number for each country you travel to. Imagine telling your family, co-workers and other contacts each of those numbers before you leave. Call forwarding from your Indian number is an option, but expensive. You can, of course, retain your number and yet have a deal cheaper than international roaming if you have an Airtel connection, that too only in Delhi where the scheme has been introduced. The Airtel World SIM'S call rates are a bit more expensive than Matrix, but all your incoming calls get redirected to the World SIM.

The third option is frankly the cheapest, though a trifle inconvenient for short trips. That is, to get a local pre-paid (called 'Pay-as-you-Go' in the US and UK) SIM card. While some countries like the UAE do not make it easy or cheap to get such a connection, in the US and UK it is fairly easy to pick up one.

In conclusion, this is what we feel your choices should be. If your volume of calls is minimal, say twothree short calls everyday, stick to international roaming. If you were to get a moderate amount of call traffic everyday or have a lot of local calls to make, or need to use data-enabled services such as your BlackBerry, choose a service such as Matrix.

Keep in mind that data roaming, even for short periods is very expensive: in Germany, for example, one megabyte of data consumed while roaming will set you back almost 50 euro or Rs 2,900. If you wish to be frugal or are travelling for a long time, you can easily buy a pre-paid SIM in almost any country, without much documentation, including popular tourist destinations such as Thailand.

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