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Roam (cheaply) if you want to

You don't have to pay two or three bucks a minute for mobile service overseas

Globe and Mail Update

Travelling on business can be a great way to establish working relationships. It can also leave you or your company with astronomical cellphone bills, thanks to the two or three bucks it can cost each minute to make calls when you're overseas.

In a recent study, data research firm Harris Interactive found that international roaming fees can cost U.S. businesses $694 (U.S.) per overseas traveller. That's 12 times more than the average monthly mobile bill. For small businesses, these costs can be crippling.

But a company called Brightroam can help you get around those crazy-high bills. The home-grown outfit, based in Mississauga, Ontario, offers SIM cards—those little cards that slip into the back of your cellphone—that provide more affordable airtime and roaming rates. The best part? You don't need to sign a contract; you just punch in where you're going and Brightroam will send you a SIM card to insert into your handset.

Brightroam's cards are designed for North American business travellers, though there are options for leisure travellers as well, and they work in more than 160 countries. The only catch: You must have an unlocked GSM phone. If you don't, Brightroam will provide you with one starting at $100, including the card.

"We've gone about doing this by working with 10 different GSM carriers internationally that provide access to their networks on a wholesale basis," says Jeff Wilson, Brightroam's general manager. "The SIM card acts like a calling card in that it routes the call to a preferred switch and connects your international call without using PINs or other passwords."

If you were to go to China, for example, Canadian carriers would charge about $3 a minute including long distance and roaming charges. With a Brightroam local Chinese SIM card, the rate plummets to just 48 cents a minute; that's an 84% difference. The same goes for France, where a minute of chatting can easily cost $2 under regular plans. With Brightroam, if you were calling Canada from either of those countries it would cost 69 cents (China) and 74 cents (France) a minute. Calls within India and back to Canada or the U.S. are more than 80% cheaper.

The company doesn't have a SIM card for use in the United States, though it plans to introduce one this year. AT&T's rate for roaming calls from the U.S. back to Canada, for example, is $1.70 a minute; Wilson says Brightroam's will be lower.

Though you can prepay for a set number of minutes, you can also sign up for monthly billing and pay only for the time you use. You can order a SIM card online or on the company's website and expect delivery within a couple of days. Then talk away.

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