United Mobile Global SIM

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For the last several years I've owned an unlocked GSM phone, a Sony Ericsson T610, and when I've travelled I've purchased SIM cards from Telestial for my destination countries to let me have a "local phone" while away:

For my recent trip to Geneva, Switzerland for LIFT, I decided that there had to be a better way: I couldn't continue to invest $50-100 for a country-specific SIM every time I travelled, especially if the trips were short. So I looked for an alternative.

What I've settled on, for now at least, is a SIM card from United Mobile. This gives me a local Liechtenstein number for my cell, allows for free incoming calls and SMS text messages in 80 countries (although notably not in the U.S. nor Canada), and not-too-exorbitant rates for outgoing calls. Another advantage is that they support "topping up" from their website from anywhere; my French Orange SIM card didn't support this -- you had to actually be in France to purchase credit.

For outgoing calls, the United Mobile system is somewhat more complex than other country-specific SIM cards I've used because to make a call you first dial the number, the call then disconnects and 2 or 3 seconds later, you get a call back and the call is completed. In my tests -- admittedly limited as I only made half a dozen outgoing calls -- this always worked quickly and without problem, and I didn't find it a limitation.

I purchased my SIM from the main post office in Geneva, Switzerland, where it is branded as Riiing and is sold at a special mobile phone and electronics counter in the main hall. The cost was 50 CHF, and this included 25 CHF starting balance. To complete the purchase I had to hand over my passport to allow a copy to be made of it, and I had to provide details of my home address in Canada. The entire transaction took about 15 minutes.

You can also purchase the United Mobile SIM from Telestial, where it costs $US 59 plus $US 8 for Canadian shipping and includes the same starting balance.

There are a few important limitations of the United Mobile offering to be aware of:

  • They don't support any sort of data/WAP access.
  • I wasn't able to send outgoing SMS messages to Canadian mobile phones (this may be possible, but I couldn't figure it out).
  • Calls to Liechtenstein mobile numbers are expensive for the caller, even with Skype (58 cents Canadian/minute) and Voicepulse (61 cents a minute); calls to the country-specific SIMs I've used before were cheaper (Skype was 24 cents/minute to France mobiles and 26 cents/minute to Croatian mobiles, for example).
  • It makes no sense at all to use the phone for outgoing calls within North America, as the outgoing rates are almost $2.50 US/minute.
  • There's a 30 cents US/call "set up" charge that applies to each outgoing call.
  • The SIM card, and any credit remaining, become invalid if "the credit has not changed for nine months."

By way of comparison, here are the current costs for making domestic and international (to Canada) calls with the two country-specific SIM cards I've used (Orange in France and VIPme in Croatia) and the United Mobile SIM. All prices are in $US and are to land-lines not mobiles.

Domestic Calls

  • United Mobile (within Switzerland) - 49 cents/minute + 30 cent setup/call
  • Orange (within France) - 47 to 60 cents/minute (depending on Mobicarte value purchased)
  • VIPme (within Croatia) - 18 to 36 cents/minute (depending on VIPme plan)

International Calls Outgoing

  • United Mobile (Switzerland to Canada) - 49 cents/minute + 30 cent setup/call
  • Orange (France to Canada) - 84 cents/minute
  • VIPme (Croatia to Canada) - 53 to 66 cents/minute (depending time of day)

International Calls Incoming (via Skype)

  • United Mobile (to Switzerland) - 49 cents/minute
  • Orange (to France) - 20 cents/minute
  • VIPme (to Croatia) - 22 cents/minute

Because incoming calls are free with all three SIM cards (for incoming calls in Europe, at least), the rates above are the Skype rates charged to the caller, not to the mobile. Skype has different rates for calls to mobile phones in Europe than for land line calls.