Italy is one of the countries in the world with the highest per capita ownership of cell phones (telefonini). So many times in meetings you will sit down and the people at the table will have at least one phone they set down. And many have two - a business phone and a personal phone. Even my wife's 89-year-old great-aunt has her trusty Nokia.
So you'll definitely want to get a cell phone. Or two. Here are the basics:
There are two basic types of networks available for cell phones, and the one you choose will drive the models you can use. The first (most common) is the worldwide GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) standard. The other is the UMTS standard, more expensive but which is more adequate if you intend to do data transfers in addition to voice.
They're pretty much the same as you will find everywhere else, and the brands are the same as well: Nokia, Blackberry, Siemens, etc.. You can generally use phones purchased in other European countries. One caveat, though, is that most cell phone provider companies that offer special pricing on the phones (tied to a contract for, say, one year) have a built-in block that prevents you from using cards from other phone companies. For GSM phones from North America they must be tri-band (that means they can ALSO use the GSM network with the frequencies used in Europe as opposed to those used in the USA - which use 1900 Mhz as opposed to 900 and/or 1800 Mhz. ). Careful - I have seen phones that LOOK identical in Italy and the USA, but they have been produced and set for different types of networks. You can also purchase "unlocked" phones
There are four major players in the Italian market for cell phone services. The first, oldest, and which (from my personal experience) has the best coverage is TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile). The others are Vodafone, Wind, and 3 which is the newest company, and which is the most oriented to higher-end, data intensive applications. If you are going over for a short period, or have friends or relatives coming to visit, or just want to avoid the hassle of dealing with the Italian cell phone companies, then check out:
Signing up To apply for a cell phone contract in Italy, you will need your codice fiscale and your carta d'identità or some other ID that shows your address to sign a contract. Also - if you intend to travel around Europe, remember to ask for international roaming. Which is great except for one thing - when traveling abroad and someone calls you, YOU pay for the cost of the international portion of the call. Your best bet is to go to one of the TIM / Vodafone / Wind / 3 centers” with an Italian speaking friend and have the person there help you fill out the form.
They all offer a myriad of packages, which you choose depending on what type of traffic you plan to have. There are two main types of contracts: a "permanent" contract that is regularly paid out of a bank account, or a "rechargeable" contract for which you must regularly "recharge" the card with additional credit. For details of their current offerings please go to their sites. Or with an Italian buddy check out http://www.free2com.it/tariffe.asp for some one-stop comparisons. Be careful when they call you to ask if you would like to try out their new "free service". It usually turns into a paying service within a couple of months, and then it is sheer pain to get them to cancel it: you'll need to send a registered letter, signed, and proving that you are the owner of the contract. Naturally, they want to make it as hard as possible for you to renounce to that neat extra service you thought was going to be free forever.....