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T-Mobile's Simple Global International Roaming: Should Travelers Switch?

T-Mobile has been working to publicize its new no-contract Simple Choice plans of late, and perhaps with good reason: There are still a fair number of travelers who are not aware of the advantages of its roaming features, Simple Global. Whereas once all the major carriers charged shocking rates for the right to travel abroad, forcing most of us to leave our phones turned off, its new plan waives sky-high fees for texts, voice, and data when you're traveling abroad. 
It's very true that because even international usage is covered by the normal T-Mobile monthly rate -- a revelation, really, for travelers who are so used to being gouged by it and other companies -- using it can save a regular texter and light surfer hundreds of dollars during a single roaming trip. 
CNET reports that if a person were to make one 32-minute call back home, use just 72 MB of data, and send 36 text messages on AT&T without an add-on international package, they'd pay $1,150 in Canada and $1,500 in Europe. With T-Mobile, it's less than $6.50, and that's because of the 20¢-a-minute phone call.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere has said international roaming fees didn't make the company much money anyway. On one hand, that’s not surprising because his company has been terrorizing travelers for years, causing them to switch off their phones and leave them off. On the other hand, it’s maddening because so many tourists have been impacted by high fees that apparently were not important to the company. 
Most of us have learned to live without communication while abroad. Part of T-Mobile's publicity push has been to release a study that says its customers are now making three times as many calls and sending seven times the text messages as they did before the plan took effect last October.
Why the reported rise? Some ups and downs from the traveler's perspective:
* Good: Texts cost nothing. 
At least, in 122 countries (check them here). In the ones that aren't, they cost 50¢ each.
* Bad: You can't use it if you're traveling long-term.
There's a three-month limit to the amount of time you can spend abroad. Go over it, and T-Mobile will pull the plug on you. From the T-Mobile FAQ: "Service may be terminated for excessive roaming..." According to the rules, that means three months. In fact, T-Mobile says that if you're going for longer than five weeks, you ought not to use the Simple Choice plan. After three months, if at least half the time is spent in the U.S., your roaming allowance timer resets.
* Good: Calls are 20¢ a minute.
That sure beats $1.50 a minute, the standard for many major countries.
* Good: Data is unlimited.
With a caveat. Here it comes: 
* Bad: Data is slow.
It's not unlimited in that it's essentially throttled. Try to stream video and you'll find the speed as frustrating as in the late '90s: 128kb/second. That's because when you roam, you're on a 2G network, which will feel a lot like it feels when your data usage has been throttled back home. This may be fine for some travelers, and it'll take your Instagram additions, but it will annoy the more savvy ones. If you want it faster, you have to buy a pass: $15 a day for 100MB, $25 for a week for 200MB, or $40 for two weeks and 500MB.
If you need fast, cheap data service, a local SIM paired with a local data package is still the way to go. As proof, T-Mobile in the U.K. grants its British customers using pay-as-you-go SIM cards a whopping 1GB "Internet Booster" for a month for just £5—that costs half even the single-day pass offered to Americans. So even with Simple Global's data packages, Americans have a long way to go in terms of price equity, and if they are heavy surfers with less need for phone calls, they should still consider buying a SIM for an unlocked phone when abroad.
Another important factor to consider is although confining contracts have been done away with, you have to have approved credit if you want to access the free international features. It’s also possible to test the system out for a few months without a contract, so intermittent travelers can sign up and then drop it.
What have your experiences with T-Mobile’s Simple Global been? Share them here.


Photo by Daquella manera/Flickr