WITHOUT A DOUBT, the most helpful piece of technology I can recommend when visiting Ireland is a MAXroam SIM. This little sliver of plastic will keep your mobile phone bills well within budget. In my own experience, the shock from mobile phone roaming charges hurts more than lost luggage. I bought my MAXroam SIM from Maplins in Limerick for €41. I purchased the little SIM even though no one in the shop really knew what it did. I knew because I had seen the Cork-based Cubic Telecom profiled during a special conference in Paris. Dozens of technical reports followed that technical demonstration and gave me the confidence to buy a new SIM for one of my older mobile phones. You need an unlocked mobile phone to make the SIM work.
MAXroam works by making your phone think it’s at home, no matter where in the world you go. Because it thinks it’s local, you get charged local rates. Or in the case of MAXroam, you pay less than you would to top up a local phone company’s SIM. It’s the most economical way to use a phone when away from home.
Just like the iPhone, getting the MAXroam SIM to work in my phone required an internet connection. You need to tell maxroam.com two phone numbers that work on the SIM. The first number is permanent and it’s the number that shows up when you use the phone to ring someone. I made this an American number because I needed a California number to use another service. Then I chose an Irish number as well. That meant I was making local calls to both the USA and to Ireland when dialling out on the phone.
Using a MAXroam SIM allows you to evade the extortionate costs of making calls in hotel rooms. You never have to worry about having coins for pay phones and you don’t have to dial a string of digits on your phone to connect to a relay point.
You get five euro worth of call credit when you get your new MAXroam SIM. I topped my account up with another 45 euro because I will give the phone to Americans visiting from Los Angeles during the Patrick’s Day festivities. They will forward their LA home phone to the California number on the MAXroam SIM. It costs them nothing to forward their calls. The only problem is they cannot see the incoming number when it rings through MAXroam.
Making a call from a MAXroam phone is a little different. You dial the number you want, including the country code, and wait a few seconds. In my case, the mobile phone network displays something strange on the phone’s screen after I dial all the digits. That’s because it takes a few second for the call to go through and then your own phone rings. When you answer, MAXroam’s less expensive switchboard is actually dialling out for you. It takes a little faith to wait—between five and ten seconds—but you know it’s going to be much less expensive than making the call through your normal network operator.
I also like the way I can send SMS text messages with my MAXroam SIM. I have a US text number from the 972 area code and that means people can text to the phone by using their own handset or by sending a text message from a website. I have sent dozens of text messages already, some from the phone to microblogging services such as Twitter and Jaiku. This can be very handy because it means I can stay updated on my phone through those free group text systems.
During the past four years of using my Nokia 9500, the roaming charges alone would have purchased a used car in Ireland. No more. With a MAXroam SIM now in the old Nokia phone, I have an international number that connects to every national provider as though it’s a native number.
My American friends aren’t as addicted to telephones as myself. But if they have a phone that accepts a SIM, I won’t have any problem loaning them my MAXroam SIM while they’re exploring Ireland. After all, I normally buy dinner for my visitors. In my actual experience, a week’s worth of MAXroam use costs less than a nice dinner with friends. On top of the simple user experience, there’s no sticker shock when the bill arrives.
Published in the Irish Examiner technology in business, 29 Feburary 2008.
Bonus Link: Maxroam.com
More: Tips from Ofcom