Face it: When you're standing in London and everybody is jabbering into cell phones-everyone except you, of course, because yours doesn't work overseas-you feel out of it. Worse: You are out of it, because when you lack a mobile phone, you're pretty much impossible to reach.
That's not just a bummer-it's bad for business. At least there are solutions. U.S. mobile-phone makers have decided to offer makeshift global cell phone coverage-often at surprisingly reasonable rates. For instance, sign up for Nextel Worldwide Service, and calls made when you're in Ireland cost 99 cents per minute; in Hong Kong, $1.99 per minute-and most other major destinations are in the same ballpark. At press time, Nextel's coverage extended into about 80 countries.
minutes: time per month men chat on their mobile phones, compared with 275 minutes per month for women
International Communications Research
"We sign up new countries all the time," says Audrey Schaefer of Nextel, who explains that the company delivers the service by inking roaming agreements with foreign carriers. Entrepreneurs will like the plan because it gives them one number on one phone for most of the world. But Nextel's not the only player. Another choice is AT&T Wireless' WorldConnect Service.
To get started, all you need is a mobile phone that includes GSM, a communication band popular in much of the world but scarcely used in the United States. Still, many phones offered by U.S. mobile-phone providers do feature built-in GSM, including AT&T's Ericsson T28 ($299, street) and Nextel's Motorola i2000 ($299, street). That means the phone you buy to work overseas will also operate just fine here.
Just make sure to verify your service with your provider before you travel abroad. Also, foreign coverage isn't seamless-expect some service gaps and imperfect roaming agreements.