Monday, February 4, 2008

Further improvements and a great announcement at Maxroam

Next week I will be at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and I will take my Maxroam SIM card with me. So outgoing calls to German landlines will cost only €0.38 per minute and incoming calls €0.25, instead of €0.58 and €0.28 which a usual German cell phone provider would charge me. Before last year's regulation these prices where even higher. In some countries I'd still have to pay €2.49 per minute for a local call while roaming. To be reachable in Barcelona I will forward my Berlin office number for free to the UK fixed line number that I have on my Maxroam SIM. I will either use my own ATA for that purpose or a new Maxroam feature.

An outgoing call with Maxroam is a litte bit different from a normal mobile phone call. It doesn't start directly. Instead you see several status messages running over your phone's display, like "calling", "requesting" and then again "calling", before you receive an incoming call with no number. That's Maxroams server calling you. A voice says "connecting, please wait" and contacts the callee. This entire callback system is based on USSD messages. That's a kind of free short messages in GSM networks, which can be sent only between the user's handset and the provider. USSD had been invented to let you check the amount of prepaid minutes on your SIM card for free. Nowadays it's often used as a 'trigger' to invoke independent calling services like Maxroam. Think of it like Jajah, but without the need to pay for mobile data usage for the communication with the server.

The Cubic phone, which can also be had from the company for usage with the Maxroam SIM and for VoIP over Wifi, is so packed with software that there is no space left to secure it with a PIN number. Maxroam's CEO Pat Phelan told me in an interview: "It’s very packed on the operating system and we have had to leave room for the two logging on GUI for the hotspots". In the last quarter the company had lots of backend work going on which now result in further improvements, as Pat Phelan told me in an email:

1. Live billing
We now have full live billing for all users on our backend, make a call, hang up and we instantly display it.

2. Add a local number
As of today we can add local FIXED line numbers to your MAXroam sim from 52 countries. (MAXroam only use fixed line numbers unlike other companies which use international mobile or premium UK mobile numbers where the average users have no knowledge of what it costs to dial the SIM and your friends are just subsidizing your roaming). This list is being added to every day. These numbers begin at €1.05 per month and you can pick up, drop as many as you like, minimum commitment is only a month.

3. Free Call forwarding
When you arrive in your destination sometimes you have access to a hotel room or an office number, we will now allow to forward all your MAXroam numbers totally free to fixed line numbers in a list of 48 countries so you are roaming for ZERO COST.

4. SMS only 5c
Once you log into your MAXroam account we will allow all users to send SMS anywhere in the world from the backend for only 5c per message.

But the most interesting announcement he already made in November, when I asked him in an interview for the German magazine ProFirma about Maxroam's prices compared to other companies like Sunsim, Globalsim or TouristMobile:
Our pricing is only at the beginning, most of these company are just resellers and I don’t mean this as an insult, we are building a global brand here, our aim within 1 year is 20c in and out in Europe and under 10c in the USA. Our next sims will be 128k Java with between 6 and 16 IMSI on each sim depending on your travel arrangements, so you arrive in India, we have an Indian IMSI on your SIM and you roam at discounted rates, we are not depending on other peoples roaming agreement and are at present travelling the planet signing independent roaming agreements.

Under €0.10 in and out? Now that would be a great price for USA, where Maxroam still charges €1.10 or more for incoming and outgoing calls. I can't wait to see these 6 and 16 IMSI SIM cards. That's like taking 16 cell phones with you, each one with a local card. So you don't have to pay for incoming calls.

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