Staying connected to your business from overseasJune 24, 2008: 1:01 PM ET
The search for a low-cost, mobile plan for international business.
Kevin Abell, Baltimore
I am starting a new business that will entail a great deal of international travel, primarily in Europe. Do you have any suggestions on the lowest-cost international mobile service that also allows me to get BlackBerry data so that I can seamlessly receive both forwarded phone service and e-mails?
Myrlande Davermann, Fortune Small Business contributor
Dear Kevin: Modern technology may have melded telephony, Internet and music all into one device, but don't expect all-in-one service on the cheap overseas.
The two carriers best designed for business internationally are T-Mobile and AT&T (ATT), says Kent German, cell-phone expert for CNET. Both have several pricing options and coverage in most parts of Europe. T-Mobile even offers plans specifically for small businesses.
T-Mobile customers who want to use their phone internationally should contact the company's Customer Care department to add the WorldClass feature to their service at no additional charge. Roaming rates depend on which country the customer is in. Unlimited plans for Research in Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerrys are available from $39.99 per month, and include unlimited e-mail and Web browsing.
Two phones are better than one
For better savings, consider using two phones - one for data, the other for talking. Telestial offers cheap calls via a SIM card - called the Passport - that can be inserted into unlocked GSM phones. The card costs $39 and works in 110 countries around the world, primarily in Europe, where outgoing calls are $0.49 per minute, while received calls are free.
Telestial has an optional 800 number for your phone, so contacts in the States can avoid international charges (though these calls will cost you $0.35 per minute). Forwarding phone calls to the Telestial Passport SIM number can usually be set up online through your phone carrier or through their customer-service department, says Erica Johnson, a Telestial spokesperson. Incoming calls from the forwarded phone numbers cost $0.30 a minute.
For e-mail, Ken Grunski, Telestial's president, suggests getting a BlackBerry cell-phone from T-Mobile: "By combining both services, you'll save enormously on international calls and receive unlimited access to e-mail."
For BlackBerry users
Mary McEvoy Carroll, principal of Sand Hill Communications, a marketing company in Menlo Park, Calif., recently had to make a business trip to Ireland. A BlackBerry user, she considered several phone plans before settling on AT&T's international package, which for $69.99 includes voice and data services. Carroll chose the carrier partially because of the company's informative Web site, which pointed out that she could stay connected whether on a cruise ship in Poland or Singapore.
"It just seems very geared up to the international businessperson," she says.
Carroll had previously worked in the U.K. and had tried buying rechargeable phone cards, but found them difficult to use as she went from place to place. "It's a nightmare when you try to reload them if you're going from one country to the next," she says.
While she spent more on her AT&T plan during her Ireland trip, she said it was a good value because it allowed her to remain connected to her business. "It's pretty reliable – you can get a signal just about everywhere," Carroll says. "You can even in a pinch use your BlackBerry as a modem for a laptop."