From the October 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

There's no question mobile phones have made staying in touch with colleagues, friends and family a breeze--until you try taking them on a business trip to another city or country. Simply stated, different areas of the world operate cellular phone networks on different standards. There's an annoying array of acronyms representing each of the names: Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) and Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM), to name a couple. Of course, users don't care what alphabet-soup technology the wireless companies are throwing at them--they just want to talk.

Now, the International Telecommunications Union has a solution: It's unifying all the world's wireless telephony standards to create one global standard, which should be adopted over the next year. Once the standard is set, you'll be able to roam the globe without ever switching phones.

How will it work? Essentially, makers of cell phones will adapt them to carry multiple frequencies. Your current phone may now work in more places than it has in the past, but even better, cell phones of the future will have built-in multimode capabilities.


Gene Koprowski has covered the tech industry for 10 years and writes a monthly computing column for The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition. Contact him at 74203.1677@compuserve.com.

Talk The Talk

Talk cheaper with today's two-way radios.

Walkie-talkies usually conjure up images of World War II and memories of spy games in the neighbor's backyard. But entrepreneurs may want to consider using the modern, more sophisticated versions of the handy talking tools as a way to save on local phone calls. These tools allow you to quickly communicate with a colleague from the factory floor, the other side of the building or even across town, without any per-minute airtime charges.

These two-way radios, typically about the same size as a cell phone, operate on the VHF or UHF channels, and are small and lightweight. Kenwood's ProTalk radio, for example, is just 4 inches long and weighs a mere 11 ounces--comparable to today's cell phones. Users can program their radios to work on four to eight frequencies (depending on the model), giving them the ability to switch channels easily if static or interruptions occur.

Prices are all over the map for two-way radios, ranging from $100 to upwards of $500 for models with more frequencies from which to choose.

Phone Home

New phone cards make every call local.

As if traveling overseas on business weren't expensive enough, those hotel phone bills for calling home can shock even the most experienced travelers. Calling cards reduce the sting because they don't charge access fees like hotels do, but they still charge high international rates. Call-back cards, however, challenge conventional international-calling wisdom.

With call-back cards, you first dial a local number (obtained before your trip) in the city where you're doing business. You're then connected to a computerized phone network, which links you to a computer in the United States and sends the call to its final destination as if it were a local call. KallBack (http://www.kallback.com) and IDT, or International Discount Telecommunications Corp. (http://www.idt.net), are two companies that offer these cards. And there's a bonus: IDT's card is pre-paid, so you can budget for your phone needs before leaving home.