Truphone’s announcement last week of Truphone Local Anywhere was the formal unveiling of their strategy to become a force in the mobile operator world. Truphone Local Anywhere will not launch for some months yet, but the essence of it is that Truphone will deliver customers a GSM SIM that can operate locally in multiple countries. As a customer, you might have a UK phone number, a US phone number, a Canadian phone number, and a Mexican phone number, for example, and pay local calling rates in all those countries. Roaming becomes a thing of the past.
This is a direct assault on one of the most profitable sources of operator income in the mobile world. Roaming charges are the surest way for an operator to make huge profits. Example: here in Canada Rogers charges users $0.90 per minute to roam in the United States. Presumably there’s a revenue split with the American carrier hosting the call, but the charges are huge nevertheless. This, in a world where it costs under a penny per minute to terminate a call anywhere in North America.
Truphone claims that with Truphone Anywhere Local, users will pay a rate competitive with local mobile rates. Mobile travellers will no longer require a case full of local SIMs when travelling. Truphone will provide local data, voice and text rates as if you were a resident of the country.
Truphone’s James Tagg told me that there are practically no limits on the SIM itself. One could conceivably have over 100 countries on a single SIM. Truphone, however, has not yet released the subscription model, which means that it’s still unclear what the cost will be (if any) to add additional countries and numbers.
According to Truphone CEO Geraldine Wilson, the product will be targeted at frequent international travellers – pilots, business travellers, expat families, people who own multiple homes, and so on. When asked how large the market was, Ms. Wilson pointed out that there are 300 million roamers today, and another 700 million travellers.
The product won’t ship for many months yet. The reason Truphone announced Truphone Local Anywhere at last week’s Mobile World Congress was to attract distribution partners in different countries. In some cases, they expect to work directly with the incumbent mobile operator, in others to partner with an MVNO, and in others they will work with “non-traditional channels that operators don’t necessarily have access to”, according to Ms. Wilson.
Here in Canada, Bell and Telus are busy deploying new GSM networks in advance of the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. Not wanting to be left out of the roaming “gusher” that the games will trigger, they’ve accelerated plans to replace their CDMA networks. Inevitably, though, roaming prices must fall here. Partnering with Truphone Local Anywhere would be a gutsy move that would differentiate them from market leader Rogers / Fido in a very identifiable way. Anybody in Toronto or Scarborough listening?