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How to avoid roaming aftershocks

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Its the end of the holidays and you are relaxed and back at work, ready for a new year. But what about that roaming bill you have incurred while abroad? GRAEME VICTOR of Du Pont Telecom offers 10 tips to avoid shocking roaming bills next time you go overseas.

With South Africans starting to return to work at the end of the holiday season, there’s nothing more likely to destroy the warm afterglow of a great trip overseas than coming home to an astronomical cellphone bill after being caught in the roaming trap.

International roaming when travelling outside South Africa is exceptionally convenient. Step off the plane, switch on your phone which will automatically link you to a local network… and carry on as if you were at home.

Except for the one rather important fact that international roaming is expensive: you pay for both incoming as well as outgoing calls: and if you want to use data (i.e access the Internet ‚ and your emails ‚ via a 3G connection) while roaming, you must be prepared for a truly staggering bill when you get home.

1. Purchase a local SIM card (with or without data) in each country you visit. It’s by far the cheapest way to use your cellphone while travelling ‚ but you will have to inform your contacts of your temporary contact number.

2. Purchase a global SIM card. This allows you to keep the same number every time you go away, wherever you go. However, to keep the cost of making calls lower, global SIMS use call-back systems. Here, you call, are immediately disconnected, then a few seconds later your phone rings to connect you. Calls are routed via a landline to make it cheaper but this can make things fiddly.

3. Get a second (cheap) phone. Put your normal South African SIM in the cheap phone, and just use it for making and receiving calls from South Africa. Then put a local data SIM into your smartphone. This way any data that you use will be charged at the local data rate and not the roaming rates of your SA operator. If you have a Blackberry, this will not work as you will need the Blackberry SIM (provisioned with the ‚Blackberry APN‚ ) for your email to work properly. Instead use tip 6 or tip 7.

4. Use the correct overseas network. There are often a number of different networks you can connect to when in another country. Your phone usually does this automatically based on the strongest signal, but networks’ charges can vary (depending on commercial relationships with your SA provider). Check before you go, and use your handset’s “manually select a network”” option to connect to the cheapest.

5. Disable data roaming on your handset so that you don’t inadvertently use data services such as receiving email, browsing the Internet or using instant messaging services and other applications ‚ and be shocked at the cost later.

6. Use WiFi rather than 3G for accessing the Internet. Once you are operating on WiFi only, you can pick up the local WiFi signal and your internet and email sessions will use WiFi. However, (free or charged for) WiFi hotspots may not always be available when you need them.

7. Get a MiFi. A MiFi is a data only device that accepts a SIM card, and has an internal battery. It is a truly ‚portable hotspot‚ that works by converting 3G mobile data (from the SIM card) into WiFi.

8. Switch voicemail off. You won’t be charged when someone leaves you a voicemail. However you will be charged for listening to the message if you do receive a voicemail.

9. Download an “”internet-to-phone”” calling system like Skype before you go. Provided the person you’re calling also has Skype, you’ll simply need to find a free WiFi spot to call for free.

10. Ask your contacts to SMS you rather than phone you. Receiving text messages anywhere in the world is free. However, sending isn’t, so don’t get caught up into a SMS conversation.

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