Looking at Global SIM Cards
I’ve spent the last several days in the Benelux region of Europe and have a week or so in Israel ahead of me. Seems like a perfect time to test the three Global Roaming SIMs I have: from MAXroam, Truphone Local Anywhere, and Roam Mobility.
For the purposes of full disclosure, I was supplied the SIM by the company gratis with some amount of credit. The free credit on my MAXRoam SIM expired (as they sent me the SIM a while ago), so I paid 25 EUR to put some credit on it.
This post will compare the following features: Making and Receiving Calls, Text Messaging, Data, and Voicemail.
****With all the global SIM cards out there, receiving calls works more or less as you expect. MAXroam provides a Belgium inbound DID, but also provides inbound numbers in other countries for a nominal monthly fee. Roam Mobility provides both a US and a UK DID number. Truphone will provide a either a US or UK number, but you can have both at extra cost. Truphone and MAXroam charge a per-minute fee for inbound calls with MaxRoam having the better rate in the EU and Israel.
Roam Mobility is unique in that it provides inbound calls for free in 65 countries (including Israel, but not Belgium for some reason). However, it requires an annual free of $25 a year to maintain your number. In countries where they do not offer free inbound calls, their inbound call rates are higher than either MAXroam or Truphone. If callers call your US number, the inbound call rate increases by $0.25/min, even in the “Free” countries.
****Truphone offers the most natural of calling experiences, allowing you (in many countries) to dial as normal (provided your normal dialing patterns includes full international dialing, starting with + country code). In some countries, they have an “economy callback” rate which allows you to place a call and have it call you back instead, making the call somewhat cheaper. If this is an option, you will get an SMS when you land in that country letting you know.
Roam Mobility always requires a unique dialing method (starting the number with a * and ending with a #). You then receive a callback from the system. This makes Roam Mobility the least user-friendly of the services I tried.
MAXroam has the best compromise: you dial normally (again full international number with + sign). The system does not complete the call, but you immediately get a call back.
The rates for making calls vary by provider, but in all cases, it is somewhere between roaming rates on AT&T and a local SIM. Not the cheapest call you can make for sure, but if you absolutely have to make a call, it won’t completely break the bank.
****Thankfully, all of these providers offer SMS that functions the normal way (i.e. you text normally). Where these services differ are rates. Thankfully, in the EU and Israel, all the services offer free inbound SMS. The difference is in outbound rates. Roam Mobility charges a $0.75 a message, which is even more usurious than AT&T’s roaming rate of $0.50. In the EU, Truphone’s rate of $0.16 wins hands down, though their rate jumps to $0.56 a message in Israel. MAXroam charges 0.32 EUR per message in both the EU and Israel, which is still better than AT&T’s roaming rates.
One advantage that MAXroam has over the others is they offer the ability to send texts for 0.05 EUR over their website. The texts originate from your MAXroam SMS number and is handy in places where you have WiFi access to the Internet. This is an extremely handy feature! I only wish that feature had a more mobile-friendly web interface!
****Roam Mobility currently does not provide data service (even though they told me months ago it was coming). Truphone and MAXroam both provide data service, though the service needs to be manually configured into the device. Both services charge in 100k increments, with Truphone appearing to have an edge pricing-wise.
Both services data offerings are generally much cheaper than roaming service provided by AT&T. I tested the service in a Nokia N95-1 and got 3G service on both Truphone and MAXroam (depending on area). I used the mobile Twitter website to send out a brief tweet, as well as some more extended usage on Gravity and the built-in web browser. It worked exactly as expected.
****One unique feature that Truphone has that the others do not is “local” rates for the US and UK markets (they are adding other markets soon). This means, while you are in the US or UK (depending on the SIM type you chose) you get similar rates to what you’d get if you had a prepaid GSM plan with a local provider (in my case, AT&T or T-Mobile). The idea is that this could be your only SIM card you use everywhere. At least in the US market, The rates are “in the same ballpark” but I can get cheaper per-minute (and per-text) rates with either provider. You do get less usurious per-MB data costs, though.
All of the services provide voicemail, but you are required to dial from your phone in order to retrieve the voicemail, which can be expensive. Roam Mobility does not offer personalized voicemail (which is a huge fail, IMHO), but both Truphone and MAXroam offer the ability to customize your voicemail greeting.
****Honestly, there is no clear winner here. All of the services do what they say on the tin, but none of them have the right mix of usability, features, and pricing for my needs. I ended up using both Truphone and MAXroam for different functions. Look at the services carefully to ensure you understand the pricing for your particular situation and usage patterns.
Meanwhile, the Holy Grail is coming. While I was in Europe, I used a different roaming SIM card that provided a completely natural usage experience (normal dialing, no callbacks) with SMS and full 3G support. The product is still undergoing testing and pricing is not available yet, but I have no doubt that it will be as good or better than current offerings out there.