The Cell Phone Thing, Part II: GSM

I recently explained why your Verizon cellphone is often of no use outside the United States. Now I’m going to tell you about GSM phones, which are used in most of the rest of the world.

First, to recap. Your standard Verizon phone can be used in Canada, Mexico and a few other places in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as aboard some cruise ships. Verizon has details here . But Europe and most of the rest of the world are straight out.

Cellphone Series

I: Verizon
III: Using A SIM Card
IV: Finding A SIM Card
V: Calling Plans
VI: Tips & Miscellany

That’s because Europe and most of the rest of the world use GSM technology, not the CDMA networks that Verizon uses. But some U.S. carriers also use GSM. They include T-Mobile and Cingular/AT&T. So, whoopee, score, doesn’t that mean you can use your T-Mobile or Cingular/AT&T phone overseas? Well, not entirely.

See, in the United States, GSM phones work on two particular frequencies. In Europe and other parts of the world, GSM phones work on two distinctly other frequencies. Ain’t it always that way?

So, most GSM phones are dual-band – they operate on either the two U.S. bands or the two other bands.  But some phones operate on three or all four bands. I have one such phone, a quad-band Motorola Razr V3 (at left).  So, whoopee, score, I can use my phone overseas! Well, yes, mostly.

T-Mobile has international roaming in dozens of countries. Details, including roaming charges, are given here.  Same for Cingular/AT&T, details here

Oh, and GSM on cruise ships? Quad-band phones ought to work on all cruise ships that offer cellphone uplinks, but dual-band phones are more iffy. Some ships offer uplinks on one of the U.S. bands, others on one of the other bands.

So, anyway, it probably all works out if you have a quad-band GSM phone and you won’t be using the phone so much that the international roaming charges bankrupt you.

But what if you have a Verizon phone? Or a U.S. dual-band GSM phone? Or what if you have a quad-band phone but you need to use it a lot overseas, so much that the roaming fees would bankrupt you? Or what if, like me, you don’t have a cellphone contract but a prepaid account that doesn’t permit international roaming?

There are still good options. I´ll explain.


One thought on “The Cell Phone Thing, Part II: GSM

  1. AJ

    Even a tri-mode handset is fine in the GSM world. Could your next post be about unlocking GSM handsets to use international sim cards?


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