Renting Cell Phones Unrestricted By Borders
By Claire Furia Smith FOR THE INQUIRER – Jan 21, 2002
During a 10-day vacation to Brazil last May, Keith Simpson needed to be in touch with his home office in New York.
Sure, he had his cell phone, but most cell phones sold in the United States do not operate in other countries. So his employer, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., rented a cell phone from a Philadelphia company for him that would function in Brazil.
His office was then able to contact Simpson as he rode a cable car in Sugar Loaf Mountain or as he strolled along the famous Copacabana Beach.
Such rented phones generally cost users less than hotel phones, and are more convenient than public phones. Their popularity has surged over the last five years as Americans became more accustomed to being in touch while on the go.
Business did dip after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when travel declined. But firms that rent mobile phones, including AllCell Rentals in Philadelphia, report that business is back to normal and, in some cases, stronger than ever.
Even though fewer people are flying, “the ones who are traveling don’t want to be without” phones, Dick Mass, vice president of AllCell , said. For example, he said he equipped more Caribbean vacationers with phones during Christmas week than during any previous week.
Also, “people became aware they could take cell phones overseas,” said Mass, 63, who ran and owned a knitwear factory in North Philadelphia before taking over AllCell in 1993 with his wife, Phyllis.
Edward G. Rendell used a phone supplied by AllCell on a 1997 trip to Germany while he was mayor to help negotiate the deal with Kvaerner ASA to open a shipyard in Philadelphia, Mass said.
Mass said AllCell customers were evenly split between business travelers and tourists. He said a typical customer would pay $155 to use one of its cell phones for a week in Italy or $165 for a week on St. Martin in the Caribbean.
AllCell also rents equipment to visitors in the Philadelphia area who find that their regular cell phones are inoperative here. Customers have included journalists covering the 2000 Republican National Convention and camera crews shooting everything from a Boyz II Men video to an America’s Most Wanted television episode in the area.
Philadelphia hotels such as the Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Marriott, which have agreements with Mass, call AllCell when hotel guests request mobile-phone service. AllCell also gets business from the concierge services of several credit-card companies.
But Mass said more than half of his firm’s revenues were generated by his Web site, www.allcellrentals.com, which he said has gotten thousands of hits from around the world.
“Everyone can type English,” Mass said. “It’s the great equalizer.”
AllCell has agreements with mobile-phone renters around the world that give it access to an almost unlimited number of phones for subleasing, Mass said.
AllCell ‘s staff of three has worked hard to develop relationships in Central America and the Caribbean, areas that many other cell-phone renters are reluctant to tackle, partly because of complications caused by limited roaming capabilities.
AllCell customers with stops in Western Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia can request a phone that keeps the same telephone number in the more than 110 countries that have adopted a single digital standard for wireless transmission called GSM.
AllCell also rents two-way radios and pagers for international use. The company generally delivers equipment to users via Federal Express or a courier.
For countries lacking wireless service all together, AllCell provides lightweight handheld satellite phones, which are much more practical than their bulky predecessors of the mid-1990s. The phones recently gained prominence as journalists and humanitarian groups snatched them up before heading to Afghanistan.
“Satellite phones started out the size of a laptop,” Mass said. “In the last year and a half, they came down to 6 inches.”
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