In this post I’ll look at the options for those who are visiting Pakistan and need temporary mobile phone service there. It addresses questions such as: Which cell phones work in Pakistan, what is a SIM, how to choose a service provider and how to pay for your calls.

Different parts of the world use different phone technologies (GSM, CDMA … see this post).  Therefore you need to have the right handset with the right settings for a given country. Most providers in US use CDMA but Cingular and T-Mobil use GSM. Europe, Africa and most of Asia, including Pakistan is on GSM. However GSM service providers in different countries may operate at different frequencies. GSM phones use a small chip or card called SIM, which stands for ‘Subscriber Identification Module’. SIM holds subscriber’s information and phone settings and it can be easily switched from phone to phone – thus making your phone an attractive target for snatching. In some countries (in US for example)  mobile phones are “locked” by the phone company to work only with specific SIM cards. For more about GSM and SIM cards see this post and the last section of the post.

You will need a SIM-unlocked GSM 900 compatible phone in Pakistan. You can take your own (you’ll need a 220V charger), rent one or buy a new or buy a used one from Pakistan. See this site for more on unlocking .

Phone Rental Service for Pakistan: Rental works best when for some reason you do not want to get into the hassle of choosing a set and provider and want prompt and preplanned service. Usuall the package includes a phone and a bucket of minutes with instructions on how to get more minutes.  Two of the companies which provide such serivces for Pakistan include Cellular Abroad  and Telestial

There are many factors which play into your choice of a provider: cost, signal and service features. Visit the page for service providers on this blog for a brief overview and browse their web sites for more information. If you are going to stay in the major urban cities then any provider should work fine. If you are looking for data or Ineternet service or for service in rural or remote areas you’ll need to do more research.

For those who have a working phone (perhaps a borrowed one!) and want their own number and service the best option is to go to the service center of one of the providers (see this page for providers) and fill out the paper work, pay the fee  and get a package of SIM card with a phone number. You will need to provide copy of your national identity card and a landline number.  My assumption here is that you want a prepaid service. If a service center is not nearby, many retail and convenience stores also carry and sell SIMs (for example see a list of where to buy from Telenor) – they will forward your paperwork to the service providers. In either case, you can start using the service fairly quickly.  Phone cards are available almost everywhere to recharge your account. Incoming calls and text messages are free. 

If you are travelling to areas outside cellular coverage you need a satellite phone. As it happens 86% of the world’s landmass and all of its oceans are in areas with inadequate landline service. A satellite phone addresses these situations by providing coverage in all ocean areas, air routes and all landmasses – even the Poles. Unlike a GSM cell phone a satellite phone offers a communications solution that is independent of location.

Additional Resources:
What to do if you lose your Phone – see this page on PTA site on how to report a stolen/missing phone; also see my previous posts about security related topics.

More About GSM and SIMs
GSM stands for Global System for Mobile Communications. GSM operates on the multiple spectrum frequency bands used around the world – 1900MHZ, which is used in North America and 900MHz and 1800 MHz for other locations. Different mobile phone networks operate at different frequencies, which means that if you wish to use your mobile phone outside your home country, you generally need a handset that supports multiple frequency bands (such as a Dual-,Tri- or Quad-band phone). Make sure that the cellular phone you are interested in is compatible with the GSM band of the country you will use it in.

The SIM (Subscriber Identification Module or Subscriber Identity Module) card – a.k.a. “smart card” – holds all of a subscriber’s personal information and phone settings. In essence, it is the subscriber’s authorization to use the network. It also holds the phone number, personal security key and other data necessary for the handset to function. The card can be switched from phone to phone, letting the new phone receive all calls to the subscriber’s number.

The SIM is inside each handset and functions as its digital brain and provides authentication and encryption. SIM’s digital memory, which stores information like your rate plan, phone number and service features, also allows you to easily personalize your service and contains user ID and billing information that can be switched between different phones. So, with your SIM card installed, you can make or receive calls personally even when you’re using a borrowed phone. Upgrading your phone is as simple as slipping your SIM card into your new phone.

More about unlocking SIMS here.