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RangeRoamer review: RangeRoamer

RangeRoamer

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Kent German
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Kent German

Senior Managing Editor / Features

Kent is a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and has worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog, or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).

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So what to do? Is there a way to make is easy for both parties? Well, a company called RangeRoamer offers a solid solution. Available in 140 countries, the company's service offers a unique SIM card that uses two phone numbers. The first is a number based in Estonia, while the second is a toll-free 866 number based in the United States. The advantage of this two-tiered approach is clear. Callers from the U.S. can use the 866 number to call you at no charge to themselves--you'll pay for the calls though--while the Estonian number, thanks to roaming agreements with the Estonian carrier, gives you free incoming calls in 40 countries, mostly in Europe, as well as inexpensive rates to many places around the world.

8.0

RangeRoamer

The Good

RangeRoamer offers service in more than 140 countries at affordable rates. You get free incoming text messages and free voice mail.

The Bad

RangeRoamer's rates are expensive in Mexico, and the service doesn't work with smart phones. Also, you can't send multimedia messages nor can you use caller ID in the traditional manner.

The Bottom Line

RangeRoamer offers an easy way to make and receive calls while abroad at reasonable prices.
The magic of cell phones has forever changed world travel. Instead of being of being unreachable while you're abroad, you can now have your friends and family keep in touch as you traverse distant lands (let's just hope work doesn't call you though). Yet as convenient as that may sound, the solutions for getting GSM have their drawbacks. If you roam with your U.S. number, the people back home can ring you on the cheap, but you'll incur pricey fees for any calls you make. In contrast, if you get a local SIM card while traveling you'll pay much less for calls but anyone phoning from the States will have to pay international rates.

To use RangeRoamer, you have a number of options available. For $30 you can buy a SIM card and use it in an unlocked GSM phone of your own. There are no other activation fees, though you will have to start off by buying $20 worth of airtime. Unfortunately, smart phones aren't supported at this time, which means business users will have to carry two handsets. Also, your unlocked phone should support the four GSM bands (850/900/1800/1900) for the best international coverage.

If you don't have an unlocked handset, you can buy a phone with the SIM card. They range from basic models to high-end phones, and each comes with a set of international charging adapters. You can get a Siemens A70 for $129, a Siemens CF110 for $179, a Motorola L6 for $229, a Motorola Pebl U6 for $279, a Motorola Razr V3 for $279, or a Motorola Krzr K1 for $379. (Japan and South Korea require a special Motorola Razr V3x.) If you prefer not to buy a handset, you can rent the Siemens A70 for $39 per week, which includes free shipping. There's no contract or activation fee for any of the phones, but again, you must also buy $20 of airtime. Also, if you want to use the 866 number, there's a $3.99 per month charge after the first month.

RangeRoamer's rates are relatively reasonable; a full list is available on the company's Web site. They start off at $0.69 per minute for the majority of countries but can range up to $0.79 and $0.99 in other places. At a wallet-breaking $3.99 per minute, Argentina and India are the most expensive places to make and receive calls, but they're only 2 nations out of 140. On the other hand, receiving calls in Mexico is a pricey $3.49 per minute (making calls is $2.99 per minute). RangeRoamer acknowledges the inconvenience of this arrangement but said it hopes to lower the price soon. In some countries, it can be cheaper to receive calls than it is to place them, but RangeRoamer says that 80 percent of the time the rates are the same.

Keep in mind that RangeRoamer's rates may be slightly more expensive than standard AT&T and T-Mobile roaming rates. This is particularly true in Canada where T-Mobile charges just $0.49 per minute and RangeRoamer charges $1.49 for incoming calls. Yet since much of Western Europe is in RangeRoamer's free incoming calling zone mentioned above, the service can work out to be a bargain in the long run. You can top up your account on RangeRoamer's Web site or you can do it through the phone itself. And conveniently, you'll hear your minute balance each time you make a call.

Depending on the country outgoing text messages can also be more expensive at $0.49 each. But on the other hand, you don't have to pay for incoming texts. Multimedia messages aren't supported, but you can use voice mail at no extra charge. Just know that calls to your voice mail will count as air time.

We tested RangeRoamer's service in seven European countries: the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and Greece. While traveling, we tried calling both the United States and friends in London and Greece. Also, several friends back home phoned us. On the whole, the service worked quite well. We connected to a network in each country almost instantly and had little trouble placing calls when we needed to. Coverage in most places was exceptional with loud and clear conversations, though reception on some of the Greek islands was spottier. Yet even there we encountered far fewer dead patches than in the United States.

RangeRoamer is not without its quirks, however. Because it's cheaper to receive calls than it is to make them, RangeRoamer uses a "ring-back" technology that treats all outgoing calls as incoming. When you dial a number, the service "converts" it to an Estonian number. You'll then need to wait a few seconds for the service to call you back and then ring your calling party. In essence it works like a three-way call so the roaming carrier always treats it as incoming call. Friends calling you won't have to wait for a ring-back, though they will encounter a delay of about 30 seconds.

Though waiting for the phone to ring us back was a new experience, it wasn't bothersome and we grew used to it quickly. However, because RangeRoamer also converts incoming calls to an Estonian number, you can't use your phone's caller ID to tell who's calling. So if you want to avoid that call from your boss while you're on vacation, you won't be able to tell off the bat when he or she is calling. Also, if you miss a call, you won't be able to decipher the caller's identity from your missed calls list.

For world travelers, RangeRoamer can be an affordable and hassle-free way to make calls. We were able to make and receive calls with ease, and we loved being able to check airline and hotel reservations and make dinner plans to meet fellow travelers and friends we were visiting. If you're looking for a way to make international calls, we'd recommend it.