Travel With a Smartphone? 3 Things to Check Before You Buy | PCWorld Business Center

Travel With a Smartphone? 3 Things to Check Before You Buy | PCWorld Business Center.  (No longer available online. Original text included below.)

Even small and medium sized businesses are increasingly becoming global. Though the Internet makes it possible through audio and video communications around the world, there are times when it makes sense for an employee to travel abroad. Though efforts like the “global SIM” AT&T announced on Monday should make things easier, choosing a phone for a world traveler can be difficult. Here are three things to consider when providing business travelers with a phone.

1. The Networks

The first thing to understand is that there are two competing cell-phone technologies in the United States: GSM and CDMA. The network you choose will determine what countries in the world you can travel to and still have coverage. 

GSM is by far the most popular technology serving over 75% of the worlds cell phone users. In the US, AT&T and T-Mobile both use GSM, and are able to provide international roaming plans that include coverage in over 150 countries. AT&T’s new global SIM would extend that to over 200 countries.

CDMA is used in the US by Verizon and Sprint, and is also common in Asian countries. Verizon users can purchase international roaming plans that include coverage in over 40 countries.

2. The Phones

The actual phone hardware makes as big a difference as the network you are on. Within the GSM standard, each carrier uses different frequencies. Most modern phones are “quad-band”, which should allow cellular reception on any of the GSM provided networks. Data coverage is another story, as it uses multiple frequencies as well.

One way to get both cellular and data coverage in as many countries as possible is to purchase a “global phone” that supports multiple frequencies. The two smartphones that currently offer the best traveling options are Apple’s iPhone 4S or Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus. Each offers models that support both CDMA and all of the GSM frequencies. Another option is to purchase a “dual-SIM” phone that can connect to two networks at once.

3. The Tricks

Though US carriers offer international roaming plans, they can be both costly and limited. For example, AT&T’s cheapest international plan offers only 25 minutes and 25MB of data for $50 per month, and it’s largest offers 800 minutes and 800MB of data for a whopping $400. If you need to be reachable at your US phone number, than this cost is hard to avoid. If all you need is mobile data and the ability for local calling, a less expensive option is to buy service from a local carrier. As an example, an AT&T user traveling to Spain can purchase service from Orange, a GSM carrier that offers full coverage plans, but also provides service on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. Remove the AT&T SIM from your phone and replace it with the Orange SIM, and you’ll have local cell and data coverage for far less money than a comparable international plan. You’ll find similar offerings from carriers in most countries.

The Future

Though GSM and CDMA are currently the dominant mobile wireless technologies, a new technology is set to take over. LTE, an extension of GSM, is being adopted by carriers world-wide and seems poised to become a global standard. Though this could make hardware selection easier, since new hardware would all support LTE, carriers may still add complications by each supporting different frequencies.