Here's how the CEO of Virtuoso Travel cuts through the tangled web of overlapping cellular networks around the world.
Matthew Upchurch travels a lot -- a lot. As CEO of Virtuoso Travel, which provides marketing and technical-support services to luxury-travel agencies in North and South America, he roams the world to cut deals with hotels, cruise lines, and resorts. Upchurch, who has a heavy schedule of clients at every stop and must keep in touch with his 125 employees as well as his family back home in Fort Worth, needs a portable phone. What he doesn't need is the headache of finding local providers in the tangled web of overlapping cellular networks around the world.
His solution? Rent phones from IMC WorldCell, a Silver Spring, Md., company that maintains contracts and roaming agreements with service providers in more than 120 countries around the world. Like its British competitor CellHire, which offers similar services in nearly 100 countries, IMC WorldCell offers the convenience of operating in many places with one phone and one number. However, if Upchurch is traveling to Japan, Korea, Mexico, or Brazil, each of which has a cellular platform incompatible with the platforms in the rest of the world, he needs to order a separate phone for that country.
IMC WorldCell delivers the phone in advance, so Upchurch knows his phone numbers in Seoul or Tokyo before he leaves Texas.
After renting phones for about four years, Upchurch purchased an IMC WorldCell phone with a permanent number in countries running the GSM (which stands for "global system for mobile") platform, the operating system used throughout Europe.
IMC WorldCell's prices are sometimes steep: calls to the United States range from 55¢ a minute for preferred customers in the United Kingdom to $5 or more a minute in Kosovo. But the company can give travelers reliable access in countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, and China, where service is otherwise hard to arrange.