So if you travel to different countries, you know that cellular roaming can be a pain, even with a GSM world phone, because they ding you for very high roaming charges.
So here’s a service I want. A kiosk in the airport to sell, or ideally rent me a GSM SIM card for a prepaid account, right in the airport. The kiosk would also sell me unlocking service for my phone, and of course prepaid cards. (By renting the SIM card, I mean it would sell it, and then buy it back at a reduced price on the way back out.)
Update Note: I’ve created a Special Forum to share information on the best SIM card sources in different countries. Search there for info on each country or enter your own findngs. …
I just did this here in Toronto. Fido sells a SIM for just $25 CDN, and the 15 cents/minute CDN for airtime is highly competitive, especially compared to the roaming charges which range from 50 to 99 cents USD depending on the company. It doesn’t take very many minutes to make this worthwhile, and you also get a local number so local contacts can call you free. In many cases you can forward your original cell line to your temp number, if your network will let you do that. (Or get a VoIP number, you can redirect those over the web, usually for free.)
But to do it I had to trek to a Fido store (ordinary cell stores often don’t sell SIMs for unlocked phones). And to make it worse, they won’t let me refill the prepaid minutes from a non-Canadian credit card due to “security policy.”
This would make sense all over the world. Of course many people rent cell phones but at crazy prices aimed at people on don’t-care expense accounts. Prepaid cell services are often very cheap, even if you are going to throw away some of the minutes when you leave.
With many prepaid accounts, you must put minutes in every 3 or 6 months to keep the number. If you go to a country a few times a year, this can be worth doing to make the number permanent. Again, I just recommend VoIP numbers forwarded free to your current number of choice.
For Canada-USA, Verizon users who have phones that do multiple NAMs can get a second NAM for their phone on a prepaid account. I also did this once but then I got a phone with only one NAM. Bell Mobility (the CDMA-B carrier in Canada) overcharges for the NAM, so it’s more for the regular traveller. Several of the phone companies offer USA-Canada roaming plans but they have high monthly fees and are only for the bi-national commuter.
The kiosk could make money a number of ways. Aside from profit on the sales of the SIMs and prepaid minute cards, they would get to resell and resell the spare minutes left on returned rented SIM card. And for the convenience of airport pickup and the fast-signup system, they could surcharge.
Of course you could rent live-account SIMs too, but that’s effectively identical to renting phones, and probably more work considering that people need unlocked phones. You need to assure their credit which introduces a risk not found with prepaid cards.
It’s also worth noting that often just buying a new, locked prepaid phone can be quite cheap due to the subsidies they put on locked phones. In this case, since you plan rare use, they are probably making a mistake. Indeed, if you only do this in one country, a new locked phone for that country may cost less than a sim card and unlocking your existing phone with an unlocking service. Many unlocking services charge $50 or more, but it can commonly be found for much less, and even cheaper for people who have the data cable.
To follow the Canadian example, a SIM and 100 minutes costs $55 CDN plus tax or $52 USD. That’s paid for in 75 minutes of Cingular roaming, 100 minutes of T-mobile roaming, faster if also doing LD. For European roaming prices of over a buck, the payback can be quicker. I am told in some cases SIMs are free if you buy enough minutes with them.
The reason the cell companies might hate this? If they are a monopoly carrier, they love charging your carrier, and you, the fat roaming fees. They don’t want you on their network for cheap.