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AwayPhone aims to slash mobile roaming costs

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Review Mobile phone roaming charges have long been a big rip-off.

UK operator AwayPhone aims to change that for business travellers, with a service that makes mobile roaming much, much cheaper. Subscribers get a SIM card which routes calls over the internet, whenever possible, and a local phone number in foreign countries. At the same time users can keep their regular mobile number.

As someone who works for a UK firm but lives in Spain, I was intrigued with the service. AwayPhone works best when you are travelling away from your home mobile network, and (according to our experience at least) in bigger cities where coverage is good. I live in the countryside 200km west of Madrid and my usage pattern, with a lot of calls to and from the UK and Spain and the majority of time abroad, is unusual.

AwayPhone is geared more towards business travellers who make short trips abroad. It also allows people to save money when they call internationally from their mobiles to a wide range of destinations across the world.

The service has been compared, rather inaccurately, to Skype. Unlike Skype, AwayPhone does not rely on an internet connection or Wi-Fi network to work. Skype may be a cheaper option for calling fixed line numbers, but AwayPhone scores because you don't have to have device connected to the internet at the time of a call. This is something that's unlikely to be available on a cab ride from the airport, for example.

Savings of up to 90 per cent on calls with AwayPhone are quoted for some destinations, but we found 70-80 per cent to be a more realistic figure. This is a massive saving, but... inter-country calls are still treble the price of using a local SIM, even with the savings that AwayPhone offers.

But in my experience, the service is lot cheaper than having two SIM cards for each country and two phones. And there is added convenience of having just the one handset to carry around.

Customers pay £25 for a new SIM card, and a monthly fee of £6. The service works only on certain tri-band GSM handsets (list here) that feature ring-back and which are unlocked. In our case we were supplied with a Motorola V220 at a cost of £40.

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