For years, despite carrying a cell phone with them, Americans traveling abroad have been incommunicado, namely because when wireless technologies were being created, the United States used systems that were incompatible with those in the rest of the world, which opted for a single standard called Global System for Mobiles.
Well, good news; times are changing. Now some wireless providers offer international service, all for the cost of a roaming charge.
Today, more than a billion people use GSM phones, making it the dominant mobile phone system worldwide with about 70 percent of the market. If you have a GSM phone, activating international roaming service is as simple as contacting your provider.
Your GSM phone (or Blackberry) assumes the characteristics of the wireless network in each country visited. So if someone is traveling in Italy, the phone will work like a local Italian wireless device.
Before GSM phones were available stateside, travelers from the United States had few options other than renting such phones while in Europe, which could be expensive and inconvenient. As a current option, travelers can purchase an inexpensive GSM phone and a prepaid card as well.
Typically, this is cheaper than a week's rental of a GSM phone. At the end of your trip you can keep the phone for next time, recycle it or sell it