Walt Mossberg

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Using the iPhone Overseas for Data Purposes

There’s no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

Here are a few questions about computers I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability. This week my mailbox contained questions about using an iPhone overseas for data purposes, running Microsoft Office 2000 on Vista and using broadband-provider email in two locations.

You recently wrote that iPhone owners using the device overseas must roam on AT&T at high rates, because the iPhone won’t work with SIM cards from foreign carriers. You noted that AT&T has a monthly plan that cuts these per-call voice rates somewhat. But what are the options for using an iPhone overseas for data purposes, such as email and Internet browsing?

Until Apple initiates iPhone service with foreign carriers, which is expected to be a gradual process that will begin in Europe, iPhone owners traveling abroad will be forced to roam on AT&T and to pay through the nose for data as well as voice calls made over cellular-phone networks. They won’t be able to buy cheaper service from a local foreign carrier and enable it by simply replacing the phone’s AT&T SIM card with the local carrier’s.

In addition, it is important to note that, even if you are willing to swallow these huge voice-and-data rates, you must call AT&T (formerly Cingular) before you leave the U.S. with your iPhone (or any AT&T phone) to modify, or “provision,” your calling plan so it will even work overseas.

Here are the details. Note that these prices and plans apply to many other phones AT&T sells, not just the iPhone.

To recap the voice-calling situation, AT&T charges very high fees, which can be mitigated a bit by adding a special $5.99 monthly add-on feature, called AT&T World Traveler, to their plans. This voice feature allows you to roam in 190 countries and gives you discounts on calls from 80 countries. For instance, in France, Italy, Germany, and Britain, you pay a still-high 99 cents a minute, compared with an even worse $1.29 without the plan. In Hong Kong or Israel, you pay a whopping $1.99 a minute, instead of an even more outrageous $2.29 or $2.49, respectively, a minute.

For email and the Web, the best bet for iPhone owners is to avoid using cellular networks and employ the phone’s Wi-Fi capability, which can cost nothing extra. Try to find a free or reasonably priced Wi-Fi hot spot in which to check email and do Web browsing. You may even be able to make cheap voice calls this way using Internet-based calling services like JaJah (mobile.jajah.com) which, in my domestic tests, worked properly via the iPhone’s Web browser.

However, if you need to check email constantly or frequently, you are unlikely to be able to depend solely on the Wi-Fi method. You can rely on AT&T roaming to do this over foreign cellular services, but, as with the voice call situation, it will cost a fortune.

AT&T offers an add-on plan for $24.99 a month, called the “PDA/Smartphone/iPhone International Data Plan.” This is on top of the $5.99-a-month voice plan, and is also additive to the $20 a month for unlimited data when in the U.S. that is built into your base plan. But it isn’t unlimited. You get only 20 megabytes of overseas data use a month, and pay a stiff $.005 a kilobyte for all data use above that.

Plus, this international-data plan only works in 29 countries. Outside those countries, the cost is an astounding $.0195 a kilobyte, or roughly $20 a megabyte. To put that in perspective, a single email with a medium-resolution picture attached could amount to a megabyte. More information is at www.att.com/wirelessinternational.

One more note: apparently AT&T can and will cancel your roaming service overseas if it notices what it considers an unusually high number of calls being made. One reader with an iPhone reported that, after arranging belatedly in Europe to get the voice-roaming service, he was suddenly cut off when he reached India, with AT&T explaining the cutoff as an attempt to prevent suspected fraud.

According to this reader, AT&T said he had been cut off “because there were ‘too many calls from India and other countries’ and they did not think it was possible anyone could be doing that for real, so to protect me, they cancelled the service.” An AT&T spokesman says the company can’t comment on the details of this particular case without knowing the traveler’s phone number.

You say Office 2003 runs OK on Windows Vista. I have been using Office 2000 and it does everything I need. Will it also run OK on Vista?

Microsoft doesn’t officially support Office 2000 on Vista. It may work, but I haven’t tested it.

Is there a way that I can use my same email address both at my home in New Jersey and at my winter place in Florida, even though I have broadband Internet service in New Jersey but am limited to dial-up Internet access from a different provider in Florida?

Some broadband providers also make available a supplementary dial-up service for their customers, which may be free or cost extra. Check with your broadband service to see if it offers this option.

If not, you could simply use an email account that isn’t necessarily tied to an access provider at all, such as Web-based email services from Yahoo, Google or Microsoft. You could switch to one of these permanently, and use it in both locations, or you can forward your main email address to one of them while you are in Florida. People who send you email wouldn’t have to learn a new address and many Web-based services allow you to set your main address as the “reply-to” address for emails you send.

You can find Mossberg’s Mailbox, and my other columns, online free of charge at the new All Things Digital Web site, http://walt.allthingsd.com.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com

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