World travelers' iPhone dilemma

If you want to use a reliable CDMA network in the United States but also travel overseas, there's no iPhone for you

When Verizon Wireless announced it will begin carrying the iPhone on February 10, a friend of mine who had been eagerly awaiting the news quickly became disappointed. Why? Because he travels to Europe and Asia periodically and needs a so-called world phone, one that works in multiple countries' cellular networks. The Verizon iPhone isn't such a device; it works only in the United States and Canada on the CDMA network technology not widely used elsewhere. He could get a GSM-based AT&T iPhone, which works in most countries, but he'd suffer from the same terrible service as every iPhone user he knows in the Silicon Valley: constant dropped calls, poor reception, and uneven data access.

So my friend thinks that he'll get an Android smartphone instead, given their popularity. He's also had a chance to play with the device and finds it appealing -- Verizon has the Droid 2 Global that offers both CDMA and GSM radios. (Sprint has no equivalent smartphones, and although T-Mobile has some world-capable devices, its coverage is not great in the Silicon Valley.)

[ Discover what the Verizon iPhone does and doesn't do in InfoWorld's FAQ. | Learn how to manage iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, and other smartphones in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. ]

But he'd prefer an iPhone, as do many others. In the meantime, there is a work-around that frequent travelers who want iPhones might consider. For your "travel iPhone," get an iPhone 3G S, either secondhand or new (while they're still available and enjoying close-out pricing) in one of the GSM-based countries you visit; at the same time, pick up a Verizon iPhone for regular use in the United States.

In many parts of the world, you can get pay-as-you go plans, rather than commit to a monthly charge. Then when you're traveling abroad, you use a local SIM to keep the costs reasonable. Just be sure the iPhone is not locked, so you know it will work with other SIMs. In most countries, you can go to any carrier's store and just get a SIM for about $10 and a pay-as-you-go plan for the time you're there. (If you travel mainly in Europe, consider getting a SIM in the United Kingdom; I've found the U.K. plans are typically more reasonably priced, even for intra-Europe roaming, than those available on the Continent.)

If you think about the sky-high roaming fees that you would pay to use a U.S. smartphone abroad (Verizon, for example, will loan you a GSM regular phone for overseas travel), you'll likely find that by getting a "travel iPhone" you can recoup the cost of the second iPhone in one or two trips, then pay less from that point on. I know many people who have an unlocked regular GSM cell phone for travel overseas. I've done this myself in Europe using a phone that my brother-in-law picked up in Australia, so I know it's a workable option as long as the phone isn't locked.

In a business setting, people could share the "travel iPhone" -- just be sure to wipe the device before letting someone else use it. With an iPhone, iTunes will do this automatically if you sync the iPhone to a different iTunes account. And remember, iTunes will copy all your music, videos, and apps from your Verizon iPhone to your "travel iPhone" when you sync, so you'll have your usual apps and media when abroad. Only the number will change.

It's admittedly a work-around, but for those of us in an area poorly served by AT&T or T-Mobile, it has the virtue of working.

This article, "World travelers' iPhone and Android dilemma," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.