Ridiculous AT&T Commercials

Over the last few months, AT&T has aired a series of commercials trying to convince the American public that they should use AT&T as their wireless carriers so they can avoid having “no bars” in Belgium, Finland, France, Spain, and, presumably, by extension, Europe in general (and Hong Kong). When I first saw these ads, I couldn’t help wonder how effective these ads could be given that the average American doesn’t go to Europe very often. Any person who decides to go with AT&T on the off chance they wind up in Europe and want to use their American cell phone there has just made a very foolish decision.

Furthermore, unless you are incredibly wealthy, if you use your AT&T phone outside of the US like you would inside the US, you will be bankrupt quickly. This page allows you to check the per minute rate for roaming in practically all countries around the world. Roaming in all the European countries in the ads costs $1.29/minute, while Hong Kong costs $2.29/minute. That’s expensive! However, it’s still on the low end of things. If you happen to find yourself in Azerbaijan (we have neighbors from Azerbaijan), you’ll be paying $4.99/minute! So, while you may not have “no bars” while you’re traveling, at the end of your trip you will almost certainly have “no money”.

One thing that can be said in favor of AT&T is that it is a GSM carrier and, if you have a phone with a radio on the proper frequency, you could take your AT&T phone to Europe, buy a new SIM card there and easily use a relatively cheap pre-paid plan while you’re there. This avoids the costly international roaming charges but it means that you’ll have a different phone number while in Europe. If your US carrier is Verizon or Sprint (which use CDMA), for example, you would have no ability to simply buy a SIM card in Europe to avoid international roaming. Rather, you’d have to buy a whole new phone. However, while the ability to get a European SIM card is helpful, this is not what AT&T is advocating. They advocate they you simply use their service under international roaming.

In any case, the relative infrequency of Americans’ international travels coupled with the outrageous cost of international roaming makes this line of advertising very unconvincing to me, even though I have probably been to Europe much more than your average American.

4 Responses to “Ridiculous AT&T Commercials”

  1. September 8, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Well, you could take an AT&T phone to Europe and use it with a new SIM except that AT&T (like most American carriers) have their phones locked. And, I believe, AT&T is one of the carriers that won’t unlock your phone if you ask (T-Mobile will unlock it after 90 days). You can either pay someone to unlock it or try to break the lock yourself if you want to use it with all SIM cards.

  2. 2 Colin
    September 8, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Good point, Adrian. The only other option is to buy an unlocked phone from Newegg, Microcenter, or some other similar establishment. However, in that case you pay more upfront for the phone since it isn’t subsidized by your contract. It seems to me that if you buy an unsubsidized phone, your contract should cost less since the contracts are priced with a phone subsidy built in. Then again, we’re talking about American wireless carriers so expecting the situation to be sensible is just not, well, sensible.

  3. 3 Milkshake
    October 3, 2008 at 6:25 am

    Well it just so happens these ads worked on my parents. A few weeks ago on a trip to Europe they both brought new phones from AT&T for use in Europe. With a pricetag of .99 a min. they used them almost as if they were at home. They are business owners and they needed to be in contact with their business at all times. I think these ads are more geared towards those in the busines sector. As for buying a SIM, I don’t know about all of Europe (I know you’ve lived here too) but in Spain it is almost that expensive to make calls if you are outside of your network. In general mobile phone plans are much more expensive here than in America.

  4. 4 Colin
    October 3, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Milkshake, that’s an interesting point. I guess if you run a business and people need to contact you while you’re in Europe, you want them to be able to use a single, American number rather than introduce a bunch of confusion by giving them your travel itinerary and asking them to use a different, European number while you’re in Europe. However, I still think that the majority of Americans who do not own their own businesses are probably not willing to pay 99 cents or more a minute for this convenience.

    As far as the expense of making calls on a European plan outside your network, I think you’re right. Things may have changed since I lived in Germany, but I recall paying something like one Euro per minute to make and receive calls when I went to Norway. I was on a pre-paid plan from Germany. I imagine that there were packages that would make roaming cheaper but I think your point still stands.

    I guess the bottom line here is that if you do use a plan from AT&T for using your phone in Europe, make sure you know what the per minute charge is. If you assume it’s $0.99 everywhere, you will be in for a rude awakening if you travel to a country where it’s $4.99/minute.

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