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For six years, the Internet Nexus served as my technology blog, but I've since started blogging at the SuperSite Blog instead. If you're looking for the blog, please head there. --Paul

Thursday, August 02, 2007

An American iPhone in Paris

With a looming trip to France coming, I basically had two options with regards to the recently-released iPhone: I could bring it along and actually use the thing, sucking up whatever monstrous fees AT&T charges for international roaming, or bring it along and barely use it at all. Not bringing the iPhone wasn't an option: I'm in the middle of a lengthy review of the device and I intend to finish that by the end of the month. So I opted to bring it and really use the heck out of it. (And good thing, too: This week, Apple shipped the first iPhone software update.)

Before doing so, however, you have to call AT&T and set up international roaming. This involves dialing a toll-free number, wading through AT&T's annoying but typical automated phone system and, if you called on a weekend like I did, waiting to do it all again on Monday. When I did get on the line with a human being, I was impressed with her professionalism and thoroughness, if that means anything to you. She described the three possible options, once the phone was configured for international roaming (note that if you don't make this call before you leave, you can't make it work until after that trip):

1. Do nothing. Calls made internationally will cost $1.29 a minute, and you'll be charged 2 cents per KB for data usage. Text messages are 50 cents per message sent. Received text messages are free.

2. Join the AT&T World Traveler for $5.99 a month. The nice thing about this charge is that you can enable it and disable it whenever you want, so I enabled it for August and will turn it off when I get back. Calls made internationally cost 99 cents a minute, but you'll still be charged 2 cents per KB for data usage. Text message prices are the same as above as well.

3. AT&T also offers a plan for $29 a month that essentially gives you unlimited international voice calls and a decent amount of data usage per month (I forget the details). The problem is that you can't opt out of it for under a year, so if you sign up, you have to pay for 12 months worth, or a total of about $360.

Side note: What I wasn't impressed by, at least not in a positive way, was how AT&T verified that it was me calling. They asked me four (very) personal questions, many of which I found quite shocking. For example, the first question was, "Which one of the following three companies were you previously employed by?" She then read off a list of banks, one of which I worked at over 15 years ago. The second question regarded addresses I'd live at (from the Phoenix area, about 15 years ago). Then another one about previous jobs (from about 12 years ago). The last one was, "Which of the following mortgage companies have you done business with?" Yikes. Privacy advocates should have a field day with this one.

As far as the roaming options went, I ended up going with the second one for what I assume are obvious reasons. I've been trying to stay off of EDGE while in France (via Bouygues Telecom in the Paris area) because of the expense, and I've disabled a few things that might trigger network access repeatedly, like email. But I'm guessing we're going to have a healthy bill when we return. All in the interests of testing, of course.

I will say this: For a few years now, we've had a cell phone that we use specifically for Europe, and it's got an unlocked SIM card. That phone has worked much more poorly than has the iPhone this first week, and since the phone costs are basically identical, we've pretty much just switched to using the iPhone for calls here. Actually, it's nice having two phones, since there are days when my wife and kids will stay in the city when I return to the home we're staying at to work.

As a frequent international traveler, I'm looking forward to what I assume is an inevitable future where we can simply bring our phones back and forth between continents and not pay extravagant fees for the privilege. The iPhone certainly gets the ease of use thing right, though I suspect a lot of people will be burned by the need to call first to enable international roaming. Next, I'd like to see Apple/AT&T tackle the international roaming charges. This should be less expensive, though of course that's not unique to the iPhone.

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