Smartphones may not be so smart for world travel…

Many months ago, while researching smart phones for world travel I discovered that no-contract unlocked phones were the way to go.  What is an unlocked phone you may ask?

An unlocked phone is a phone that doesn’t have its system locked to work only on a particular cell phone service’s network.  Thus, no contract.  However, on its own, a mobile phone won’t work.  It requires a method of receiving a signal from the towers and satellites all over the world.

That method, when one doesn’t have a mobile phone company such as Verizon, AT &T or T-Mobile, providing the signal directly to the locked phone, requires that the phone be unlocked (and set free from any service provider.) Then, it requires that a SIM card, a subscriber identity module, be installed enabling the phone to grab onto local cell signals.

In addition, each country operates their own signal on a specific band, not unlike radio signals, requiring the phone to be no less than a quad-band with frequencies that it can access bands of 850 and 1900 MHz commonly used in North America and 900 and 1800 MHz used in other parts of the world. A quad band phone can work in all of these situations.

Our plan was to buy the Nokia Lumia 920 when it hit the market this November.  Patiently, we waited.  We were sorely disappointed, last week, once we began the laborious process of searching for an unlocked version, to discover that finding it reliably unlocked was impossible. 

The only option was to buy it locked from AT & T, who has a monopoly on this model without a contract for $449 and try to find a way to unlock it ourselves since AT & T refused to unlock it for any price.

Unlocking a phone can be easy when given the proper code.  Unfortunately, due to AT & T’s pre-established criteria with Nokia, there was no readily available unlock code.  Many web sites, suspicious and otherwise, claimed that they had the code, offering to sell instructions to unlock it for prices ranging from $29.95 – $199.00. Very risky. 

Also, trying to unlock it under these questionable circumstances could result in damage to the phone rendering it useless and unable to be returned.  Very risky.  We gave up on the Nokia Lumia 920.

After no less than five visits to phone stores in the past three weeks both in Scottsdale and in Henderson, we were almost at a point of giving up being prepared to pay the horrific charges to keep the two Android phones we  currently have for international roaming charges which would be upwards of $500 a month.

Again, this morning we decided to try one more time.  We found our way to a Verizon store, saw another phone we liked that was supposedly unlocked, only available for full price (without a contract) by purchasing online from Verizon’s global department. (All along we were prepared to pay the “full price” for whatever unlocked phone we purchased.  The lower cost options are only available when one commits to a new 2 year contract with the carrier).

Returning home, we finally had an opportunity  spoke to a knowledgeable representative, who explained that the phone we in liked in the store, the LG Intuition, was CMDA, not GSM (GSM is Global System for Mobile, the international standard, required for use with SIM cards and global use). 

“Please,” I asked, “tell me which smart phones you have today that are GSM and unlocked, suitable for world travel. We are ready to purchase right now.”

With the sound of her fingers flying across her keyboard, I waited patiently, almost holding my breath.  Tom and I looked back and forth at one another, hopeful.

Moments later, she said, “Oh, you already have a GSM unlocked phone that works globally.”

WHAT???? My phone was on speaker.  Tom and I looked at each other and gasped at the same time.  We already had such a phone!  She confirmed that Tom’s 11 month old Motorola Droid Razer that  I had purchased for him last year for his birthday in December, was both CDMA and GSM, unlocked and ready for world travel.  My older Droid X was not compatible.

She proceeded to explain how to remove the Verizon SIM card and use the slot to install a micro SIM card in another country, without having a Verizon contract.  Buy one more of these, cancel our existing expired contracts before we leave the US and we’re good to go.

Moments later, we had purchased the Motorola Droid Maxx with the 8 MP camera we wanted, also unlocked, GSM, and ready to use internationally!  In two days we’ll have our new smart phone in hand, activated,  awaiting the installation of the SIM cards we are now going to find and purchase.

The day before we leave the US on January 2, 2013, we will terminate service to our phones and install our new SIM cards.  We won’t have to worry about “roaming” charges on the cruise since we won’t have a contract. 

Our smart phone technological issues are almost completely resolved. Now we begin the search for the most cost effective data and call worthy SIM card that will work seamlessly with our two phones.  Whew!

Why two smart phones when we are together 24/7?  Safety. 

If I leave Tom at home in Cajarc, France, while I walk to the health club down the road, tripping on a cobblestone street (possible) and spraining my ankle, I’ll want to be able to call Tom to come walk me home. 

Another less important reason, we both are in the habit of “playing” with our phones. When we have WiFi available, we’ll still want to play.  When WiFi is not available, we can read KINDLE or NOOK books on our phones while lounging in a lawn chair on the deck of the cruise ship neither of which require an Internet connection once the books are downloaded.

Oh, good grief!  How spoiled we are with our technology!  You may say, people traveled the world without technology for centuries.  But…were they able to upload a photo for you to see of a baby elephant walking behind its mother, holding its mother’s tail with its trunk, in a matter of seconds!