In most countries in Europe, fixed and mobile voice communication is a highly competitive market and prices have come down to acceptable levels for national calls. As soon as you want to make calls from a mobile phone abroad, especially to international mobile phone numbers, things get very expensive. But now I've found an interesting solution to this problem, both for me as a caller and also for those people who want to call me from abroad:
In the UK Lycamobile, a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) operates a brand called "Toggle Mobile". Their SIM cards are quite special as they can be assigned up to 5 numbers from different countries. This ensures cheap prices when roaming and also gives me national mobile phone numbers in up to 5 countries that people can call cheaply or for free if part of their monthly bundle. Here are three daily scenarios I have:
Scenario 1 – Making international phone calls with my mobile: Even only calling EU countries with my "normal" SIM card costs more than a euro a minute. In other words, I try to avoid making international calls from my mobile phone and rather use my fixed line phone at home where I can make the same call for a couple of cents a minute. With the Toggle Mobile SIM on the other hand, calls to fixed lines in many countries cost 3 cents a minute and mobiles can be called for 9 cents a minute. As I'm living in Germany and not in the UK, I've assigned a German mobile number in addition to the UK number to the SIM card to get these rates. The German mobile number is free if only needed for 30 days or 5 pounds sterling for a year if I want it to be assigned permanently.
Scenario 2 – Get local numbers in other countries so people can call a local number: Many people including myself (see scenario above) are quite reluctant to call international numbers from their mobile phones. The solution to this problem is to activate a French mobile number on the SIM in addition to my UK and German mobile numbers. This way I can give my friends in France a French mobile number they can call me as part of their monthly package. The twist is that I don't have to be in France to receive the call. I can be in any of the countries I have registered for a local number and receive the call for free.
Here's a practical scenario: The person that wants to call me is in France while I am in Germany. He dials the French number, pays for a local mobile call and Toggle routes the call to me in Germany. I receive the call for free because I currently use the German number I have registered.
Too good to be true I thought at first, but I've given this a try over the course of two weeks and found it to work flawlessly. Excellent! The only slight disadvantage: I have to carry a second phone again, a very small one, however, just for voice calls. A dual-sim phone might be an alternative in the future.
Scenario 3 – Receiving calls for free in non-EU countries
In countries such as the US, India, Hong Kong and Australia incoming calls are also free. Perfect as I tend to be in some of those countries for time to time.
On the technical side the Toggle SIM contains a SIM Application Toolkit (SAT) App that detects in which country the mobile is switched on. It then compares the country to the national numbers (IMSIs) stored on the SIM and copies the corresponding id to the IMSI field on the SIM. It then asks the mobile to perform a SIM reset to make the mobile register to one of the national networks with the local IMSI. That sounds easier than it probably is to pull it off in practice so kudos to Toggle for operating such as service.