The Joys of International Cell Phone Roaming

When I went shopping for a cell phone about a year ago, I knew I wanted four things: I wanted great call quality and a speakerphone; I wanted a clamshell style phone; I wanted a GSM world phone so I could take it anywhere, and swap out the SIM card when needed; I wanted a national family plan that didn't cost too much since even the kids don't chew up the minutes, but we do use them when we are away from home. We were more or less stuck with AT&T as a call provider, as they have the strongest signal indoors in our house; there was only one other company that had a strong signal too, but they were much more expensive.

I ended up with a RAZR Z9. It seemed to fit my needs, being a quad-band clamshell with great sound. It had some other disadvantages, like clunky software and a reputation for a little lack of ruggedness, but I decided I could live with those. AT&T unlocked it for me without any argument.

Indeed, everything has gone fine with this phone until I got off the plane in Manchester. Unlike my old, reliable but sometimes comical, NEC 525, it wouldn't find a signal.

On the old phone I had to reset the networks to Europe; there's no control for that on the Z9, and the manual suggests it should switch automatically.

So I go to the AT&T help pages. Nothing seems of much use. I check out the plan description and see that international roaming isn't selected — aha! Now, why anyone would want a quad-band phone that wasn't set up to work abroad, I can't begin to imagine, but then again, AT&T has gotten into legal trouble for turning int'l roaming on without warning people and then sticking them with their insanely high rates. So I'll just turn it on then. Wait, what's this? There's been a problem with my request, and they can't fulfill it. And I should click the image below for live person assistance? But there is no image below…. Ah. In the very fine print well below it says that if there is no image, I should just call them… but the PHONE ISN“T WORKING.

So I email for help. And I get a reply within minutes:

Thank you for contacting AT&T.

We appreciate your business and know that your time is valuable. An AT&T Online Specialist has been assigned to your case and will respond to your concern within 2 business days; however, our response may be sooner. We will do our best to exceed your expectations.

Now at this point, I'm thinking that isn't going to be hard, since my expectations are pretty low. Good thing I've got a UK SIM card sitting somewhere in my luggage. I only want the US SIM connection to pick up messages anyway.

Between the time when I started this note, and getting to this point in the account, I got a second note from AT&T, this time from a real person. The person tells me I don't have international roaming set up on my account. So I reply asking to have it activated. And they say it's fixed, turn it off, wait a minute, turn it on.

So I do. But it still doesn't work.

And then 10 minutes later, it does.

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One Response to The Joys of International Cell Phone Roaming

  1. Matt says:

    I think I recall that you’ve been to Manchester before, in which case you probably know this, but if not, let me highly recommend walks along the old canal down to the remains of the Roman fort and visits to the many pubs. I was there in the spring for the annual Political Studies Association conference and found the canal and the pubs, with traditional cask ales and meat pies, really wonderful.

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