FCC Issues Advice on Traveling With Mobile Phones

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As the U.S. enters the summer vacation season, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has launched an educational program to remind mobile-phone customers traveling internationally how to avoid high-cost calls.

The FCC launched its Wireless World Travel Week on Monday, and the agency plans to offer new tips about saving money while traveling with mobile phones throughout the week. U.S. residents make more than 60 million international trips a year and many take their mobile phones with them, the agency said.

"People can become savvy travelers before their trips overseas by checking with their wireless providers to learn about international calling and data fees for their mobile phone plans," Mindel De La Torre, chief of the FCC's International Bureau, said in a statement. "A little preparation and education can save consumers a bundle."

The FCC offered several tips to customers looking to avoid high-cost roaming charges when they travel with mobile phones.

-- Mobile-phone customers should check with their wireless providers to find out the options and costs of using the phones outside of their home countries. Customers should turn off features such as automatic e-mail updates when taking their phones overseas.

-- Customers can also look for alternatives to their regular mobile phones. They should explore alternative calling options, the FCC said. It may be more affordable to rent a mobile phone, buy a SIM card for use in the destination countries or use calling cards overseas.

-- Travelers can also explore whether to use VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) instead of their mobile-phone networks when staying overseas, the FCC said. VoIP, often free or cheaper than traditional calls, can be used with a Wi-Fi hotspot or access to broadband. Travelers will need a compatible smartphone, a computer or a special VoIP phone, however.

-- Frequent travelers can also look into getting world phones, which have international mobile plans and coverage. World phones are generally less expensive to use internationally than standard mobile phones, the FCC said.

Mobile carrier trade group CTIA said it will also offer customers advice during the week.

"The wireless industry has a myriad of applications available for consumers to help them manage their usage when they're traveling in the U.S. or internationally," CTIA said in statement. "We encourage consumers to learn more about these tools."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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