About Cell Phone Roaming

by Contributor

If you have ever seen a triangle or the words "roaming" appear on the face of your cell phone, it means that your cell phone is outside its coverage area. This usually occurs when traveling, but may even occur in "dead zones" close to home. It is all listed in a cell phone contract, but sometimes the terms can be confusing. Informing yourself is the key to avoiding high roaming charges.


Cell phone roaming is when a cellular phone service provider has to use another provider's signals (and therefore towers and equipment) to keep your phone in service. Both providers typically have a mutually beneficial agreement to use the other's signal to extend their customer's coverage. The terms of the company's contract are not detailed in the customer's own service contract, but the customer's provider will hammer out a set of rules and rates for roaming to pass on.


Allowing cell phones to roam means that it is less likely for a cell phone to lose service. By using each other's towers, cell phone providers allows their customers a signal where they usually would not have one. Therefore, customers who travel far from home can still use their regular cell phone instead of having a phone for home and one for traveling.


Since cell phone companies must pay for the use of other provider's signals, they therefore pass the cost onto the customer. This can often cause significant charges on a customer's bill. The specifics of these charges are detailed in a customer's contract but they can often be quite expensive. They may be as little as 50 cents a minute to as pricey as over a dollar. There are also roaming charges for Internet and text message usage, so non-talking customers aren't off the hook, either.


Analyzing a cell phone contract before signing can help a customer prevent roaming charges. By knowing exactly when and where she is covered by her service provider, she can either choose not to use her phone when roaming or sign up for a plan that has wider, non-roaming coverage.


Cell phone roaming occurs when a person is outside the typical coverage area. For some plans, this means from state to state while for others it may just mean specific, hard to reach spots within the states (such as at high altitudes or remote locations). International roaming is usually an even higher charge, for plans that allow international usage.

Expert Insight

As cell phone companies continue to expand coverage, the areas in which roaming occurs shrink. Also, because of the recent merging of major cell phone companies, customers may experience a sharp drop in roaming charges. The merger means the amount of towers belonging to the now-merged company is roughly doubled, so the coverage is increased.

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