International data is always a headache, no matter if you’re buying a local SIM, renting a country specific hotspot (1, 2), or exploring your carrier’s roaming plans. Up until now. Two companies are coming out way ahead of the flock with some interesting new revelations in international communications.
For one, T-mobile has just announced today they will be providing unlimited data and text for their postpaid customers in 100 partner countries starting October 31st. Meaning, as long as you’re not on a pre-paid plan and have T-mobile, you can walk off the plane and continue your WhatsApp chat where you left off at the boarding gate. Want to make a call? This includes flat-rate $0.20/minute calling to the 100 “Simple Global” countries (the list includes a generous lot of Western European, East Asian, and Carribean countries, check out the rest at the bottom of TechCrunch’s article). You won’t exactly be zipping along on LTE though, because T-mo is only offering 2g/EDGE speeds, with optional $15-$50 “Speed passes” that bump up your data to 3g for 1 day to two weeks.
KnowRoaming (iOS/Android; $35) is taking a completely different approach, and this could be an industry-wide game changer for every traveler out there. KnowRoaming is independent from the carriers and has developed technology to add stickers to the your SIM card that allows you to automagically switch to KnowRoaming’s partner networks in 220 countries wherever you might touch down. You fund your KnowRoaming account with a credit card, and their app tells you how much you’ll be paying for data, text, and calls on the KnowRoaming network. Which is, in simplistic terms, how KnowRoaming works — you’re on your home carrier in your home country, as soon as you leave, you’re on KnowRoaming’s network.
On paper, they offer a complete service with “normal calling” and occasionally automatic call-back in certain countries to avoid fees. According to KnowRoaming’s website, you have to purchase a forwarding number before you leave, but everyone who calls your home cell phone number will get connected to you without noticing any disconnect or alternate numbers.
The downside with KnowRoaming is the unknown. They are promising a LOT from a Toronto-based startup with 9 employees with a first-run that’s being funded by a proprietary Kickstarter-esque campaign. On the bright side, this is how the Google’s and Apple’s have changed the world, a small pivot-able company ready to take on the big companies of the world.
If in February of next year, KnowRoaming takes over the international marketplace, they will start putting pressure on conventional carriers to revamp their roaming policies. I’d love to see KnowRoaming really push forward, and in the short term start simplifying roaming terms and techniques — abolish these Skype-esque “forwarding numbers” and “call-back” routines. With some traction, KnowRoaming could be offering unlimited packages and become a next-generation powerhouse global network.