Have Phone, Will Travel
Need to be reachable halfway around the globe? Here are three relatively hassle-free options.
By Matthew Maier

(Business 2.0) – For the global road warrior, staying in touch with the office usually means tapping lengthy calling card numbers or typing late-night e-mail exchanges. It would be nice if wireless carriers and Internet telephony companies could make international calls as cheap--or at least as easy--as dialing next door. Until they do, here are your three best bets. -- MATTHEW MAIER

1 - BUY A WORLD PHONE

Before your trip, make sure your cell phone works in the region you're visiting. Most cell phones use one of two wireless standards. The more common is GSM, or global system for mobile communications. But some countries--including Brazil, China, South Korea, and much of southeast Asia--use a standard called CDMA, or code division multiple access. Both are prevalent in the United States: Cingular and T-Mobile use GSM, while Sprint and Verizon Wireless use CDMA. They've all inked roaming agreements with counterparts in Asia and Europe and offer world phones like Motorola's Razr or Samsung's A790 that will work overseas. Still, world phones aren't particularly cheap to use. International roaming rates range from $1 to $4 per minute. Only road warriors with large expense accounts need apply.

2 - RENT TO ROAM

If you're on a tight budget, try renting an unlocked cell phone. Unlike non-world phones from Cingular and T-Mobile, most of which are configured to work only on their own networks, unlocked phones will work on many networks worldwide.

You can rent phones at many international airports, but if you're visiting more than one country, try a cellular retailer such as Cellhire or Telestial. Their phones let you hop from network to network--while maintaining a single number--in as many as 100 countries. Visit them online (Cellhire.com or Telestial.com) to order before your trip. Incoming calls are free, and outgoing calls cost as little as 50 cents per minute.

3 - USE THE NET INSTEAD OF A CELL

Thanks to voice-over-Internet protocol, or VOIP, you can take your office number on the road. For about $100, Vonage this month will begin offering a phone that uses Wi-Fi to send calls via the Internet. You'll need the $25-per-month Vonage service, but you'll pay a fraction of normal rates on overseas calls. A call from Shanghai to San Francisco costs 10 cents a minute using Vonage, vs. $2.23 a minute on Verizon.

Another option is Skype, which turns a laptop with an Internet connection into a portable phone. Download free software at Skype.com, plug in a USB headset, and dial by clicking on a name in your buddy list. Calling other Skype users is free. Calling a landline or a cell phone costs anywhere from 2 cents to $1.40 per minute.