Two winters ago, on a three-month work-travel trip in Mexico, my ex-boyfriend and I entered a cell phone conundrum. How would he take calls from his business partner on his mobile without paying ten times the peso? How would I call home to let my parents know that I hadn’t hit a burro while we drove Mexico’s two-lane highways? For communication back home, we jumped through various corporate hoops, which is something I’ve come to expect while living in the land of corporations.
AT&T (or Cingular, as it was at the time) wanted to charge us a monthly fee to even use his cell phone in Mexico, and on top of that, $0.25 per minute so none of his monthly minutes applied. Meanwhile, a friend of ours was hopping off the Trans-Siberian Railway in Moscow and bought himself an unlocked mobile phone, a SIM card, and called us in Mexico for only a little more than calling Gorbachev down the street.
We tried our friend’s trick, but spent days trying to unlock my boyfriend’s tri-band GSM phone. AT&T/Cingular would text us codes to unlock his phone, which required a call back to the states (at the $0.25 per minute rate) to have them type in the exact code that they had already texted us. It became our corporate cat and mouse game, one that never seemed to work to our advantage, or to simply unlock our phone. The two times they texted us the code, they had one wrong number or letter. We started to wonder if they were doing this on purpose, to punish us for asking for the unlock code to bypass their international plan’s exorbitant roaming fees. Meanwhile, we moaned because we knew there was a business idea in all this madness.
In this global economy, with more people doing their work via the internet from anywhere in the world (like ourselves), business travelers don’t need to be punished for keeping in touch with colleagues, or Mom. Someone had to invent a service that gave these users the same service as the European sipping espresso at the next table. Someone had to invent a service that put the customer back into the equation.
Someone did. Patrick Gentemann, founder of Call In Europe, gave customer service back to travelers of Europe, and a chance for the rest of us to give corporate America the finger. He made the familiar phrase, “When in Rome,” a reality by starting a service in 2006 that finally brought mobility back to mobile phones.
“The main reason we started Call In Europe is that people were tired of being overcharged,” Gentemann says on Call In Europe’s Web site. Then he sang Italian music to my ears: “We came up with a solution that’s very affordable and easy to use, and you can keep the same phone number forever.” Had I really died and gone to Rome? Because of Call In Europe, I could start to plan a trip to see my friend now living there, the city I had lived in during college, the Rome that had inspired my life-long love affair with travel.
But Gentemann didn’t stop at cheap calls while sipping cappuccinos by the Trevi Fountain. Call In Europe took it a step further and solved the conundrum completely. Travelers who can unlock their tri-band GSM phones—as my ex and I did after four attempts—can use the Call In Europe cell phone services for a one-time fee of $29. You get a European SIM card that requires $60/year in usage to keep the account active (which is why it’s good for frequent business trips to Europe). You also receive a local cell phone number without prepayment, monthly fees, or contracts, and you get $10 of free airtime. On top of that, Call In Europe gives the option to forward all calls from one’s U.S. cell phone number to the new European number for a small fee.
While you could pay up to $1.29 per minute to use your home U.S. service cell phone while walking the cobblestone streets from piazza to piazza, or downing your pint of Guinness after work hours (of course), Call In Europe gives you service to the world at half the price. With their plan, you can call anywhere in the world for a flat fee of $0.69 per minute, and incoming calls cost only $0.29 per minute.
That’s a bargain worth traveling for … I’m just mad I didn’t come up with it first.