Once I had decided that I was going to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Spain, I knew that one of my biggest “hidden” expenses was going to be what appeared on my mobile phone bill well after I had returned home. I fully expected to spend as much as $500 – 600 on top of my usual monthly bill during a week abroad between phone calls, text messages and whatever data I didn’t put on the Spanish SIM I had just purchased on eBay.
Even though I had added AT&T’s $5.99/month “World Traveler” International Voice Roaming package (which meant that I would pay 99¢/minute to call home from Spain versus the usual $1.39/minute), I knew AT&T was going to pop me (and anyone who sent me) hard on texts — at a rate of 25¢ per text charged to anyone in the US sending me a text and 50¢ for each international text sent by me. Since I send and receive thousands of texts in any given month, I had reason to be nervous!
A few weeks before leaving, I was unexpectedly cc’d on an email from Johan Van Mierlo, a longtime friend at Mobility Minded, replying to his contact at Tru. Since Johan wasn’t going to make it to MWC, he was recommending me for the offer Tru had extended him — the use of a BlackBerry Bold and a Tru SIM with all charges covered while at the conference in exchange for an article about my experience; I was thrilled when Tru agreed to offer me the same opportunity. There was a bit of concern over whether the BlackBerry would get to me before I left for MWC, so I gave Tru my hotel information in Barcelona. Things worked out well however, and I had the BlackBerry in hand as I began my trip.
So let’s back up for just a moment and talk about who and what Tru is.
Unlike other operators, Tru has never been restricted by national borders. In the early days our company (which was then known as Truphone) started out in the mobile internet telephony field, developing Nokia, BlackBerry, Apple iPhone and Android apps that are used by hundreds of thousands of users across the globe.
Our Tru App is still going strong and has evolved to include different instant messaging services in one app. It now also allows you to make internet calls without an internet connection, routing part of the call through a normal wireless network using our unique technology.
Tru operates under the belief that “people and businesses that operate internationally should have the freedom to use their cell phones abroad to call and surf the internet without the fear of being stung by mobile roaming charges.” They have begun to build a global GSM mobile network through which their customers will only pay local rates on calls, texts and data instead versus intimidatingly expensive international roaming rates. Even when in a country that isn’t technically covered by Tru, they will still work to get you competitive pricing on your calls, texts and data when you are using a Tru SIM.
Tru gives their customers “multiple cell phone numbers for the countries they frequently visit or where they have colleagues, friends and family. This means their colleagues, friends and family can call them on their cell phones, wherever they are, without paying the price of an international call.” When I was issued my Tru SIM, I was given a US phone number that my husband Kevin could call which was tied to my SIM; while in Barcelona, I had a UK number that anyone who wasn’t in the US could call.
Tru SIM cards are available as a product for individuals, large companies and small to medium companies. At this time, you can get a local number along with local rates in the US, UK and Australia. I was told that Tru isn’t technically “local” Spain just yet, but they will be very soon. For that reason, I was told that when I received my Tru charges breakdown, I’d see what I would have saved both in and out of a proper Tru network, as opposed to what my bill would have been as a US traveler using AT&T.
I was asked to let Tru know all of the particulars of my AT&T plan, so I sent them screen shots from my account …
click to enlarge
I warned Megan and Chloë, my two Tru contacts, that I was an extremely heavy text and email user; I also like to use the apps tied to Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook when traveling, but I had just about resigned myself to not using them for the week I was gone. They told me not to worry about it.They were signing me up for a Tru B2B Business plan, which would give me a significant savings.
The idea behind Tru is that you will use your phone like you always do, without worrying about what things are going to cost, because you are always going to get the best possible deal.
When Helena and I arrived at our Barcelona hotel, I was surprised to find that I had a package waiting for me; it turns out that Tru had sent a second BlackBerry and SIM in case the one sent to me in Texas hadn’t arrived. Helena was already having issues with the Spanish SIM she had purchased, so I emailed Tru and asked if they would mind her using and writing about the second BB/Tru setup; they were kind enough to let her.
For the next week Helena and I texted, called, emailed, tweeted, Facebooked and Foursquared as much as we wanted. The only issue I ran into was that I could not open the browser on the BlackBerry to view web content, but that was not a huge problem because I could view maps and web content on my Android-converted HTC HD2, which was using the Spanish Data SIM.
Some time after I returned home, Tru sent me their analysis.
To remind you, the plan I signed you up for was a B2B plan, not a consumer plan. This is significant right now because the rates above and beyond the Elite Bundles of minutes, text and data do not feature on the website but are supplied by our business team.
So if you want the best rates because you travel enough to justify it, you’ll want to talk to their business team to see what they can do for you.
According to Tru, during the period of March I used 53.9 minutes for voice calls, I had 478 text messages (incoming and outgoing), and I used 27.2MB data.
This is the part of the writeup where I am going to attempt to break the whole bill down and see what was the best deal for me. There’s going to be lots of numbers and your eyes may glaze over a bit, but I’ll pour you a virtual cup of coffee or tea, and hope you can stay with me. =)
So let’s start with my phone calls. I spoke on the phone for 53.9 minutes — which is actually more than I expected. What this would have cost me on Tru during the week of MWC, because they did not yet have Spain in their network, was $31.60. Once Spain is in the Tru network, those same calls would be $2.20. Because all of this was international roaming, AT&T would have charged me 99¢/minute, so my cost would have been $53.61. So Tru was the obvious money-saver here; add into that the fact that any calls made to me by someone in the US were treated as a local call for them, so they didn’t have to pay long distance rates to call me.
I have 478 texts sent and received. I don’t know how many were incoming or outgoing, but we’ll just figure that it was 50 / 50. So if I sent 239 texts, it would have been $119.50 at 50¢ each. The texts received while internationally roaming are usually free. The Tru charge in or out of network would have been $28.80, but at $119.50, my AT&T rate just rankles. Once again, any texts sent to me from the US while traveling were sent to the US number attached to my Tru SIM; they would not have cost the person in the US who was sending the text to me in Spain an international rate.
The worst costs when traveling internationally are typically data. Remember that I was not able to surf with “my” BlackBerry, but I worked my way through a mountain of email and I was able to post to my social networking sites with the BB apps for Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare as much as I pleased, so I did use a bit. As a result, I ran up a tab for 27.2MB of data. That seems like such an insignificant amount, when you consider that I have the “unlimited” data plan on my iPhone at home. On the Tru plan while out of network, I would have spent $51.00. In network on Tru, my data usage would have gone down to a tiny 50¢. On AT&T, if I had purchased an international data plan, my rate would have been $24.99 for 20MB with a cost of $0.0195/KB for any overages. Since I would have had 7.2MB in overages, or 7,372.8KB, at a rate of $0.0195/KB, I would have had an overage of $143.75. It would have made far more sense to purchase a 50MB data for $59.99. If I had not purchased any international data ahead of time, my data costs would have been for 27 852.8 kilobytes at the $0.0195/KB rate, or … wait for it … $543.13 — heart attack city. So obviously a bit of planning on AT&T would have saved me a lot of money. For the sake of comparing and hoping that I would have planned ahead, let’s say I had bought the 50MB plan.
After seeing my usage, Tru recommended their Tru Elite 450 plan, which is $74/month and includes 450 US minutes, 40MBs of data and 250 Texts for use across Tru countries (US, UK and AU, with Spain coming soon), and 100 European minutes.
So here is the breakdown of what I would have spent; I am also adding in the regular monthly cost of having the plan for one phone, but I have not added any additional taxes or fees:
Tru (Out of Network)
Phone calls: $31.60
Text Messages: $28.80
Monthly Plan and Charges: $74
Total for March: $185.40
Tru (In Network)
Phone Calls: $2.20
Text Messages: $28.80
Monthly Plan and Charges: $74
Total for March: $105.50
AT&T (International Roaming)
Phone Calls: $53.61
Text Messages: $119.50
Data: $59.99 adding the 50MB international data plan
Monthly Plan and Charges: $80 for 1400 minutes (granted they are pooled with other family members – I’d never need that many on my own), $30 for unlimited iPhone data, $30 for unlimited messaging and mobile to any mobile calling
Total for March: $373.10 (with the international data plan) — or $916.23 if I had forgotten to add the international data plan … eek! =o
So here is the bottom line: if I had been paying for monthly service through Tru, my bill for the international in network usage plus basic monthly service would have been $105.50; a trip to an out of network country (such as Spain was at that time) would have been $185.40. My regular US AT&T plan with all the international usage would have been either $373.10 (if I had the foresight to add an international data plan before leaving) or $916.23 if I hadn’t. Either way, at the very least, Tru saved me about 50%, but the savings could just have easily been much more significant due to the difference between the Tru in network usage and the AT&T price if I hadn’t added a data plan.
True offers up to three months trial for their business plans before they expect you to sign a contract of any kind. That seems like a fair amount of time to give the service a try to see if it would help you. While I don’t see their business plan as a solution for someone who seldom travels internationally, for those who do, it could be a lifesaver.
Tru also offers a consumer SIM card that you can use when traveling:
- Access to exclusive local rates throughout the Tru network
- Competitive roaming rates in over 220 countries
- The choice to port your current US or UK number, or take one of theirs
- a $15 credit
- The option to add a number for each Tru country for just $8 each per month
When you order this SIM, you can top it off with up to $150 to use for data, texts or calls.
If you are a world traveler who needs a local number that people in the US, Australia or the UK can reach you at even when you are abroad, then Tru Business is an affordable solution. If you are someone who travels frequently and you want the best rates possible in every country visited — not the cookie-cutter international rates charged by your carrier, then Tru Business is an affordable solution. If you are someone who only travels out of the country occasionally, then the Tru SIM might be a good option to help you save money; you can even upgrade the Tru SIM to get membership discounts for $15/month.
With our optional Tru membership ($15 a month) you pay local, not roaming rates in all, for calls, texts and data. Without membership you still get local rates in your closest Tru country, and our competitive standard rates everywhere else.
For instance Kevin and I will be traveling to Greece later this year. It doesn’t make sense for me to have a monthly Tru plan (because unfortunately I don’t travel abroad enough to justify it), but I could purchase the Tru SIM for $29.99, which would give me an initial $15 credit. These are the rates I would pay with a Tru SIM from Greece (a non network country) to the US:
Contrast that with AT&T’s international rates to Greece of $1.29 per minute voice calls (with the $5.99/month world traveler package or $1.99 without it), 50¢ per text, and up to $33 per MB without an international data plan, and I think that this is the route I’ll go when we travel. Especially since I’ll be able to use the Tru SIM with any unlocked phone.
I’m really glad that I didn’t use AT&T when I traveled to Barcelona. While it’s obvious that Tru saved me money by comping my calls, texts and data while I performed this experiment, they also introduced me to a valuable travel tool … one that I will be using to save money from now on — every time I travel internationally. If you travel internationally, whether regularly or sporadically, Tru may be the perfect solution for you.
For more information on Tru, visit www.truphone.com or call them at +1 888 883 9002. They can help you decide which plan is best for you based on your usage.