Anders Brownworth

Technology and Disruption

Roaming Internationally with the iPhone

I took my iPhone on a trip to Chile and Argentina. As it is a quad-band (world) phone, I was interested to see how it worked on networks outside the United States. In the US, the iPhone always says "AT&T" in the upper left hand corner of the screen as that is your only network option. But with multiple foreign networks to choose from, how was the iPhone going to handle this?

As it turns out, you get an additional option on the Settings screen that allows you to choose a carrier when outside the US.

Just about everything worked including the EDGE network for Internet access, SMS, Visual Voicemail and with International Assist on (the default), I could dial my contacts in the US just by picking a contact without having to edit the number. The one drawback was that I never got any Caller ID on incoming calls. I would just see "Blocked" for all incoming calls. All in all though, it was a fairly small price to pay for my iPhone to work in Argentina. It was a good bet that mine was the only iPhone in Cordoba at the time!

While network selection is "Automatic" by default, you can pick the network you want to use by hand. Below is a video of this in action. I happened to be in Cordoba, Argentina at the time so my options were movistar, Argentina Telecom Personal and CTI Movil Argentina. It takes a bit of time for the network search to finish but eventually you get a list of carriers that you can use. In "Automatic" mode, the carriers that AT&T has contracts with (CTI Movil, Unifon and Telecom Personal in the case of Argentina) will be automatically selected. If you manually pick one and go out of that network's range or pick an unsupported carrier, calls predictably will fail. Obviously the best choice was to leave the phone in automatic select mode. The phone also worked well in Santiago, Chile, although of course on other networks.

On a side note, I was told that the street price of my iPhone was in the neighborhood of $2,500 given the price disparity of other smartphones (Treo 700) that you can purchase both in the US and in Argentina! Electronics are heavily taxed in Argentina.

Comments (13)

Anders from RTP

I should also mention that people in the United States could dial my New York based cell number and my phone would ring in Argentina. Things generally worked the way you would want them to with the exception of the Caller ID and the fact that calls were $1.50 per minute!

bb from seattle / wa / usa

Cool... But my question is how much were you paying for data transfer. @ $.05 per kilobyte, AT&T's rates could easily reach hundreds or thousands of dollars just from downloading a few e-mail attachments and doing some light web browsing or video streaming while abroad for a few weeks. Outrageously exorbitant gouging by AT&T on the international rates...

Anders from RTP

The rate is $.0195/KB so I've probably billed several dollars on that. Actually I'm also mistaken on the per-minute voice rate. That's actually $2.29 per minute of highway robbery. You can find the standard rates and where you can roam on AT&T's International Roaming Page.

Eugene Pagano from Oyster Bay/NY/USA

It has now been two weeks since you posted your response to BB. You may know more about the costs now.

I have similar concerns about my forthcoming trip to Greece. How much did it cost? Did you have AT&T international roaming? Did AT&T charges apply when using your iPhone in a wi-fi hot spot?

As an aside, my praises to your brother for his excellent podcasts "12 Byzantine Rulers," and to you for your work in producing them!

Anders from RTP

Eugene, I still don't have an actual bill yet for my trip.

> Did you have AT&T international roaming?

Yes. I didn't activate International Roaming until several days into the trip. I had to go through a credit check before they would add it though. Thankfully I could call into the AT&T 800 number with Skype to get that done when I was in South America.

> Did AT&T charges apply when using your iPhone in a wi-fi hot spot?

Phone calls don't go through WiFi so I would be charged for those in or outside the USA. I did use the Internet features via WiFi though and they worked well without a charge. I will, of course, confirm all of this when I get my bill.

I should see the bill in the beginning of September. I'll post a summary and possibly the actual bill when I get it. Check back.

Eugene Pagano from Oyster Bay/NY/USA

Did you receive the bill? Were you able to avoid data charges by using the iPhone only in WiFi hot spots?

Anders from RTP

Eugene, I'm still waiting for a bill. My trip was 31 July through 10 August and as I mention I didn't activate International service until I was in Argentina for a few days. The newest bill that I can access online covers 4 July - 3 August and includes no International charges. I just got an email saying that my wireless bill was ready online but when I login, I still don't have one for the month of August which should include the trip. I also opted out of a paper bill so if it's going to show up, it'll show up online.

I had a number of incoming and outgoing calls when I was on my trip and before I had International activation, I used the WiFi radio to browse the web and check email. When I had International activation, I used the EDGE network so I'm expecting to see charges from the latter.

I'll post the bill online for all to see when it arrives.

pepangelist from Buenos Aires

I used my iPhone for 4 Days in Canada and I got a u$s 500 surcharge for that. I am really pissed off.

Eugene Pagano from Oyster Bay/NY/USA

Pepangelist's experience illustrates my interest in whether your web browsing and email checking only in WiFi hot spots was successful for avoiding data roaming charges.

Anders from RTP

UPDATE: I just got my bill and did a blog post:

International Roaming iPhone Bill

Richard Tihany from Helsinki, Finland

I hope to buy an unlocked iPhone 4 in either Belgium, France, Germany or Canada where Apple sells them legally, with no "Jailbreak" fix or other means of unlocking the phone; it's done by Apple itself.

Do you know which carriers in Argentina support iPhone? I have been using CTI Movil in B.A.

Anders from Cambridge, MA

Richard: The iPhone is a GSM phone so you can roam on any GSM carrier. That said, features specific to the iPhone such as Visual Voicemail require direct carrier support. For Argentina right now, the supported carriers are Claro, Movistar and Personal. ( see ) You should be able to get an account with any of them.

Carol from Argyle, TX

I traveled to Cordoba Argentina last year from July 14 thru Aug 8th. I wondered why it got discharged so soon...well, I had not turned "roaming" off and besides I did a little TM and a few calls to US... My bill was $1,567.00. This time I am going again but will be v ery careful to turn roaming OFF and turn off the phone when I am not using it!!!!

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