The mobile provider TIM leads the market, followed by Vodafone, Wind, and Tre. Each company offers a broad range of voice and data packages, and you should compare prices and conditions carefully before entering into a contract. There is also a range of small mobile companies which operate on the networks of the main providers.
The Italian providers have a fierce marketing competition which benefits the customers. Their aim is to offer the lowest charges for calls and SMS services (even “free” calls and SMS) at a fixed monthly fee of at most 10 Euros.
Using your current phone in Italy
Phones purchased in other European countries can be used in Italy. The most popular way for foreigners to get an Italian mobile line is by inserting a SIM card into their current phone. Wind, Vodafone and TIM use GSM technology with frequencies between 900-1800MHz. Some others use lower frequency (800 MHz). The Tre provider uses UMTS/HSDPA technology.
If you plan on buying an Italian SIM card, you should know which kind of mobile you have and what frequencies it supports. If you don't know the frequency, contact your phone provider before coming to Italy because your phone may not be compatible with your new SIM card.
GSM cellular phones from North America must be tri-band in order to work in Italy. They must be able to function on the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequencies.
Like in most countries, you can either get prepaid SIM card (ricaricabile) and mobile contract (abbonamento). The abbonamento is a permanent contract at a fixed monthly rate and usually comes with a minimum contract length between 12 and 24 months. In case of cancellation, you will have to pay heavy fines.
With the ricaricabile plan, the phone card must be regularly recharged with additional credit vouchers (ricariche). Recharges can be done at grocery stores, tobacconists, bars, magazine shops, ATMs or at your own provider's Internet website or customer service lines.
Switching providers is easy if you have a prepaid plan as numbers can be ported. People continuously change providers to get the latest rates and offers.
How to get a mobile connection
To get a prepaid SIM card or a contract, you will need the following:
- identification document
- a document indicating your address
- tax number (codice fiscale)
If you only stay in Italy for a short time and don't have an Italian tax number, your only options are to rent an Italian mobile or to use your mobile connection from home and pay high roaming charges.
Additional services with your contract
Most internet providers offer a range of additional package offers including TV, telephone and internet (provided that your mobile is UMTS or DVBH).
Sky TV provider has established partnerships with Tim, Vodafone and 3. Some satellite television programs can be watched directly by your mobile. Vodafone and Sky offer mobile TV services by subscription, which consists of a weekly variable cost and allows you to watch the included programs for as long as you want, or just some of them depending on the provider.