Mobal GSM World Phone Service
International travel is
becoming more common, and the need for and convenience of an
international cell phone is increasingly essential.
6 of a
10 part series - click for Parts
If you occasionally travel
internationally, the Mobal GSM World Phone Service is an interesting
alternative to the Hop global roaming
service discussed in part three.
The cost of getting a Mobal
phone is lower, and because you have no annual line rental
costs, the ongoing cost of keeping the phone is obviously
But if you're making lots of
calls with the phone, the per minute charges can quickly add up.
Choose this product if you don't plan to use your phone a great
deal; but consider Hop or some of the other solutions offered in the
decision matrix if you plan to be
a heavier phone user.
What You Get
Mobal phone service
gives you an international SIM that works in over 140 different
countries in the world, complete with an (optional) phone to use
with the SIM.
If you don't already have a
suitable international GSM phone, you can also choose a phone at
very discounted prices, ranging from an entry level dual band phone
(900/1800 MHz - doesn't work in the US) for only $49, to fully
featured tri-band phones costing $99 and up.
discussion on which GSM bands you
need to help you choose the best phone.
The phone comes complete
with a multi-voltage charger for the different voltages and
frequencies around the world.
Mobal's SIM is from one of
the major wireless network operators in the UK, but has special features that you
wouldn't find if buying direct from any of the UK wireless
Because the SIM is issued by
a UK phone company, it has a British phone number associated
with it. No matter where you are in the world, people will
always get through to your phone by calling the UK number
assigned to the SIM.
Using with other phones
You can also buy the SIM
card by itself and use it with any GSM phone that you might
already have. The SIM card - without a phone - costs only
$19 - less than what a hotel would charge you for even a very
brief international call from the phone in your hotel room.
If you choose to buy the SIM
alone, be sure to remember that the GSM phone you use must not
only have compatible frequency bands but also must be
unlocked. If you're not
certain if the phone is unlocked or not, it will quickly tell
you this when you put the Mobal SIM into it.
We tested Mobal's SIM with a
range of different Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Siemens
phones, and it worked perfectly in all of them.
Buying the SIM by itself is a good strategy
if you already have a high end phone that you'd rather use.
But for the minimal $30 extra cost to get a nice dual band
phone that can be kept as a spare, this might also be something to consider.
Update : We can provide
you with a Mobal SIM ourselves
(costing a mere $2.50 each plus $2.50 shipping) and also have a limited range of easy to
remember phone numbers for sale.
Using the Mobal service is
very simple. You put the SIM into the phone, turn it on,
then start making calls and receiving calls.
It works just like any other
cell phone you've ever used. There is nothing special you need to know or do.
Even though you are calling
through an international network, calls go through quickly, both
from your phone and to your phone, and voice quality is clear
and the same as for local cell phone calls.
Strangely, however, I was
unable to call to my Mobal UK number using my prepaid calling card
service, even though it allows me to contact other phone numbers
in the UK. Calling the number just caused a nasty tone to
appear in my ear.
SMS and Voicemail
SMS - Short message service
- is something that almost everyone uses abundantly overseas,
but which has yet to become very popular in the US.
The SMS service works very
easily with the Mobal service. The SIM automatically
configures your phone to send and receive SMS messages, so no
additional configuration is required.
SMS messages cost 80¢ each
to send. Incoming messages are free to receive.
Voicemail can be a great
convenience, particularly if you switch your phone off while
sleeping at night, but have people calling you at horrible hours
due to misunderstanding the time zone changes.
Voicemail is an expensive
service with Mobal, however. When a call gets switched to
voicemail, you'll pay a double cost - first of all, the cost of
having an incoming call routed to your phone, and then secondly,
the cost of having the call then routed from your phone to the
UK, where the voicemail service is based.
To retrieve your voicemail
messages, you pay the cost of a call from where you are located
to the UK. So, in total, you're paying three times the
cost per minute to get a voicemail message that you would with a
Fortunately, in view of the
cost of incoming voicemail messages, the voicemail service is
turned off by default.
Using the voicemail service
is slightly complex. You have to program a special number
into your phone to call.
When someone leaves you a
message, the system sends you an SMS message to tell you.
The message suggests you simply dial 901 to retrieve the
message. This suggestion is, alas, wrong, and doesn't
work! Instead, you must call the special number.
Mobal do helpfully point out
that it might be a good idea to switch voicemail off when you're
not traveling, so as to avoid any inadvertent or accidental
Perhaps the most distinctive
thing about the Mobal product is that there is no monthly/annual
line fee for having a phone number. Mobal say that they
reserve the right to suspend your service if you haven't used it
for eighteen months, but they'll switch it back on again for
free if you ask them to. It is probably a good idea to
remember to make a call to or from your number once every year
or two just to make sure it is still active, but other than
that, you have no ongoing costs at all.
This is a uniquely good deal,
and compares with potentially $50 or more a year to keep other
But offsetting the no line
fee are high per minute phone call costs, with one exception.
The one exception - if
you're in the UK, all incoming calls to your phone are free.
But elsewhere in the world, you'll typically be paying $1.25 -
$1.95 per minute for incoming calls.
Outgoing calls to numbers
within the country you're in are generally about the same as the
cost for incoming calls (ie $1.25 - $1.95 a minute), although in many cases, it is
strangely less expensive to place a call to someone than to receive a
International calls to
places outside the country you're visiting are of
course more expensive, with rates to call the US or UK
ranging from a low of $1.50 a minute up to a high of
$8.95/minute, depending on where you're currently located.
Calling to other countries is more expensive
again, with rates ranging from $2.95 all the way up to a
breathtaking $11.95 (to Serbia & Montenegro - you probably won't
need to call there too often).
We've prepared a table
comparing international cell phone calling costs that gives you
a quick summary of the respective costs of competing services.
Phone calls are charged in
whole minute increments - this tends to make your calls more
expensive than if they were charged in shorter, single second or
6 second (1/10th minute) increments. For example, a 4
minute 1 second call would be charged for 5 minutes with Mobal,
whereas Hop, which charges by the second, would charge for only
the exact time used.
One positive thing is that no taxes are added to Mobal's rates.
Yes, Mobal costs are higher
than buying local prepaid SIMs for each country you visit.
But this alternative is not convenient for everyone, and also
pre-supposes you already own a GSM international phone to use
with the prepaid SIMs.
The Mobal costs are
generally the same or lower than those charged by companies that
rent you a phone and SIM, and are also generally the same or
lower than those charged by US phone services.
Hop rates are much lower
than Mobal's rates, but the cost of equipping yourself with a
Hop number are greater to start with - a Hop SIM costs $99,
including $15 worth of airtime.
If your phone usage is
likely to be less than two hours or so of talk time while
traveling, the Mobal product might be the better choice for you.
But if you expect heavy usage or regular travels out of the US,
then the Hop product's lower costs per call start to overtake
the Mobal product's lower cost to start up.
Paying for Service
One of the very nice
features of Mobal is that you do not need to prepay for service.
Instead, you simply register a credit card with Mobal, and they
bill it as and when you make calls, with invoices being billed
every two weeks.
They also send you an
itemized invoice so you can see how you're spending your money.
Due to the billing to your
credit card, you never need to worry about running out of
airtime, or the hassle factor of needing to recharge the balance
on your SIM card if using any type of pre-paid SIM service.
The Mobal SIM and phone
costs very little up front and is easy to use. It can be
from their website.
We can provide you with a
Mobal SIM ourselves ($2.50 each
shipping) and also have a limited range of easy to remember
numbers available for sale.
For people who don't anticipate a high volume
of phone usage during their international travels, this is the best way to get hassle-free
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23 Jul 2004, last update
21 Jul 2020
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