Truphone comes to Hong Kong

27 Sep 2013

ITEM: UK-based mobile startup Truphone launched its SIM-card services in Hong Kong, Thursday, promising business customers that the days of expensive voice and data roaming are “history”.

Indeed, Truphone’s business model hinges squarely on the fact that most mobile users avoid data roaming because it’s insanely expensive.

“Mobile data usage is growing at a fantastic rate, but usage for data roaming is growing much more slowly,” said Truphone chief marketing officer Manju Kesani at the launch event. “People just turn off roaming when they travel because it’s too expensive, and even if you’re willing to pay, the quality of the data connection often isn’t as good as it is if you’re a local user. For business travelers, that means lost productivity.”

Truphone integrates multiple local numbers in the markets where it operates (currently the US, UK, Australia, the Netherlands and now Hong Kong) onto a single SIM card. Each number serves as a local number in any Truphone market, which means that calls to and from any Truphone number are treated and billed as local calls in those markets. The same goes for mobile data, so customers can use their apps and surf the web as local users.

“That means it’s not only much cheaper than data roaming, but you also get faster data rates because you’re connecting as a local user,” says Alex Ip, Truphone’s senior VP for Asia-Pacific.

At this stage, it’s worth clarifying that while Truphone does offer an OTT app for iOS, Android and BB10, the company’s SIM-based offering works like an MVNO, but in multiple markets and backed by its own global network.

“This is a ‘proper’ mobile network with a global core infrastructure, while radio access is arranged via partnerships with local premier operators,” says Ip. “We do our own switching, our own routing, our own hubbing and our own backend. We also have multiple hubs for resiliency.”

Truphone also does its own network monitoring for 24/7 support – to include providing replacement phones with a new SIM with all your numbers and contact info backed up.

Aimed mainly at enterprises (though a consumer option does exist), Truphone sells bundles of monthly minutes and data that can be used in any of Truphone’s markets. “As far as we’re concerned it’s all one virtual country,” says Kesani.

New users who want to keep their existing numbers can port them via local mobile number portability channels, Ip adds.

It does mean having to have multiple contact numbers, but Ip says many of Truphone’s enterprise customers already have local mobile numbers in various countries anyway. And there’s convenience in having one SIM support them all instead of juggling individual SIMs for each one.

As for the obvious question – what happens when you travel to a non-Truphone market – you can still roam as normal, and while roaming rates do apply, Ip says Truphone has arranged for discounted roaming rates “from 30% to 60%, depending on the market, but it works out to at least half price on average”.

Truphone is planning more service launches soon in Germany, Poland and Spain. Ip adds that more APAC markets are on the TruPhone roadmap.

Truphone won’t reveal subscriber numbers, but says its customer base does include “Fortune 50 and FTSE 1000 companies across multiple sectors”.

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