Saturday, August 27, 2005

CDMA - GSM divide

Korean telcos use CDMA cellphones. This is not compatible with the European GSM type phones, which are used in Singapore. Besides Korea, Japan and the US also use CDMA.

What this means is that your GSM phone will not work in Korea or any of these CDMA supported countries. If your cellphone is the GSM type and you travel to a CDMA country, you have 3 options on phoning home:

1. Rent a CDMA phone from your telcos; or
2. Call from the hotel you are putting up in; or
3. Use phone cards at their public phones

I do not have any experience with 1, and I avoid 2, both of which can be prohibitively expensive, but I have some tips for the 3rd. Phone cards can be very expensive - about US$5 (roughly equivalent to W5000) that will give you about 6-7 minute talk time. These phone cards are sold at most retail outlets bearing the KT brand. Unless you are in an emergency, don't buy them. As a comparison, you get 3 minutes local talktime for S$0.10 in Singapore.

Instead take the subway to one of the larger subway stations (such as Dongdaemon) where there are pushcart vendors in the underground subway. They sell prepaid phone cards of various brands ('Leader' - a brand from Serome, is the best, I am told). These 'mega talktime' cards come in a range of prices (W5000, W10,000, W12,000, W15,000) with different talktimes for different countries. These are all listed prominently on display charts at these pushcart stalls as well as with the card when you buy them. The clincher is the talktime. A W10,000 phone card (about S$18) gives you 120 minutes (i.e. 2 hours) of talktime for calls made to Singapore using a fixed line phone. Talktimes for calls made from a handphone is less for the same destination. The talktimes vary for country to country too. In any case, the point is that an equivalent talktime using the normal phone cards would have cost me about W75,000 (or approximately US$75)!

What's the physical difference between these two types of cards? The mega talktime cards give you a number which you reveal by scratching off the covering paint. The instructions on how to make calls is written clearly at the back of the card. (Note: don't key in the country code as the card suggests - that's the only problem in the instructions on these cards). The other difference is that for normal phone cards, you need to insert it into the phone slot. You don't have to do that for the mega talktime cards. All you need to do is get a dial tone by lifting the handset, then key in a string of numbers (including the phone number) and you'd be connected.

The best thing about it is that, with 2 hours on the card, you can now take your time talking to your loved ones back in Singapore (or any supported country).

There is one caveat, though. The card expires one year from first use. But even if you use a quarter of the available talk time, it would still be far cheaper compared to the normal phone cards.

No comments: