Cellphone plans are a little like languages: they don't always translate well in foreign countries.
Often, travelers have to pay an extra $100 to their provider to get any cell service abroad. Or they must sign up for a short-term plan with a carrier in the country they are visiting.
T-Mobile US, one of the largest phone carriers in the United States, wants to change that. The company on Wednesday said it was eliminating the charges that a customer normally paid to use their phone number and data service in a foreign country, called roaming fees.
John Legere, T-Mobile's chief executive, said in an interview that travelers had long been shocked by exorbitant cellphone bills after they traveled, so many people now just leave their phones off.
He said the point of the change was to help the people who would pay $100 for service abroad. But it was also to help "the people who fear turning their phone on."
T-Mobile customers will be automatically enrolled in the free-roaming agreement on Oct. 31. Those who subscribe to the company's plan, called Simple Choice, can take their smartphone to a foreign country and pay 20 cents a minute for voice calls. Text messages and data will be unlimited.
The free roaming benefit will apply to about 100 countries, including France, Spain, China, Japan, Russia and China.
The plan is the latest aggressive move from T-Mobile, which has been on a campaign to disrupt the American wireless industry over the last year. The company has said its goal is to eliminate the things that make people angry with their phone companies.
In March, the company shifted from requiring customers to sign two-year contracts. And in July, the carrier offered an option for customers to upgrade to a new phone after as little as six months, instead of waiting two years. The company also continues to offer unlimited data plans, which AT&T and Verizon Wireless discontinued long ago for new customers.
The changes are working. In August, T-Mobile reported that it had gained 1.1 million customers in the last quarter, its largest growth in four years.
The elimination of roaming fees raises a question: if the customers don't have to pay the fee, then who will? Mr. Legere said he expected customers to continue joining T-Mobile in droves, which will more than make up for the money that could have been made from charging roaming fees.
"We just changed the game to where our coverage map is now the world," Mr. Legere said. "Our network is now by far a much bigger coverage area than AT&T and Verizon combined."interact
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 9, 2013 9:06 PM