The new iPhone 4S is a world phone. Sounds pretty awesome right? You and your iPhone 4S circumnavigating the globe. Calls from tiny cafes in Pairs. Texts from the mighty mountains of Macchu Picchu. It's going to be beautiful right? Sure, if you can afford it.
That new iPhone 4S world phone is gonna bleed you dry sucka.
World Phones like the iPhone 4S contain CDMA and GSM radios and allow you to make a call from almost any network in the world. For example, if you're on Sprint or Verizon's CDMA network, you can still take your iPhone 4S to GSM heavy Europe and make calls. Woohooo right? Yeah, not so much. Having a world phone doesn't mean you can grab any ol' SIM card and throw it in your phone. The carriers still lock your phone to their network while at home and when you're traveling, they rely on their international partners. Their very pricey international partners.
These partnerships are money printing machines for the carriers. Typical call charges range from $.99/min to $1.29/min for major European and Asian countries. Tiny little Morocco can cost as much as $5.99/min on Sprint's network. Data is criminally expensive. AT&T and Verizon offer data packages. For $50 AT&T offers 125MB. A paltry 150MB will cost you $75 on Verizon. Sprint charges $.019/KB which adds up pretty quickly, and T-Mobile charges $15/MB. These companies aren't just charging a premium, they're ripping you off while your away from home.
Text messages rates are even more ridiculous than usual. The carriers are charging $.50 to send and $.05 to receive. If you send more texts than a 14-year old girl, you better learn how to consolidate those LOLs and OMGs.
There are carriers that offer discounts for the international jet setters out there. AT&T and Sprint both offer International roaming packages that will discount the per minute charges in select countries. You to add and remove these packages from your account without fear of extending your contract. The discount can be $.10 to $.60 depending on what country you're calling from.
If you're cool with these charges, the main advantage to a world phone is that you're using your main phone and phone number. The convenience of not having to alert everyone that your number will be different while on vacation is also pretty cool. It's perfect for business travelers that need access to their email and phone at all times. you know, people that can write off the expense of that $30 viewing of Maru the Cat on YouTube.
If you want to be able to pay rent after a vacation, there are alternatives. In many countries you can walk into a mobile phone shop and purchase a pay-as-you-go phone with rates lower than your home carrier will charge you. You could also unlock your phone. Some carriers will allow you to unlock your world phone after a year or two. iPhone owners should keep an eye on the jail breaking community. They are constantly updating their tools to unlock Apple's latest hardware and iOS version. With an unlocked phone you can purchase a SIM card while on vacation, throw it in your phone, and you're now a citizen of the world. Just be sure to email everyone your new international number.
Or you can do what I did last time I was in Mexico. Wi-Fi was so prevalent, that I used Skype to make calls and sent texts sparingly. I spent $25 in texts and calls while there. My friends weren't so lucky. One of them ended up with a $400 cell bill. World phones are awesome, just be prepared to pay for that awesome.