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The Digital Skeptic: Why Global Roaming As You Know It is Dead

CAMPO DEI FRARI, Italy ( TheStreet) -- Here in a cozy Venetian square, on a crystal clear Sunday morning, I'm doing as I always do, creating stories using the state-of-the-art mobile Web.

But today I'm doing something unique. I am accessing that Web using a new generation of blissfully low-cost world roaming data and phone options.

"It's not complex to offer steep discounts on global phone services once you take advantage of the efficiencies of modern world cell networks," Pascal de Hesselle, vice president for marketing at Truphone Americas, explained to me on the phone a week or so back.

De Hesselle's Truphone is but one of several world-oriented mobile phone operations that are taking advantage of emerging low-cost global digital cell systems, newly privatized in-country telephone laws and cheap smart mobile devices to offer dramatically frugal global communications products in the lucrative $45.1 billion world mobile roaming market, according to U.K.-based research firm Visiongain.

And if my week of doing my work with Truphone -- and a similar product from a company called Telestial -- is any indication, the age of high priced global phone roaming from Verizon (VZ - Get Report), AT&T (T - Get Report), Sprint (S) and T-Mobile is officially over.

The global mobile virtual network operator
Truphone pulls off its low-cost global phone and data trick not by investing in forests of cell towers or fleets of phone repair trucks. Rather, it behaves like a so-called mobile virtual network operator. In the U.S., that's Boost Mobile or Virgin Mobile. Truphone gathers together long-term carrier agreements with in-country cell operators, say Europe's Vodafone (VOD) or Telecom Italia Mobile (TI). Then it offers international travelers not one, but two (!) cellphone numbers, in two different countries, baked into the same phone bought in their home country.

My test BlackBerry (RIMM) Bold, for example, had a U.S. number and a U.K. number. And this two-number mobile identity opens a world of cost-saving possibilities in world telephony.

Truphone figures out automatically which identity is cheaper for a given call and passes that savings on to me. Actual savings vary -- we are talking about global cell and data now, and estimated costs are just that: estimates -- but in general I felt that Truphone's claimed rates of roughly half traditional American operator provided global roaming costs were fair.
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