South African startup KnowRoaming, which launched in 2012, has been at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona, Spain this week showcasing new products as it plots global expansion.
KnowRoaming has developed a solution aimed at helping travellers save on international roaming – the Global SIM Sticker. Applied once to the SIM card of an unlocked phone, the sticker remains dormant while the user is at home but automatically connects them to local networks when they abroad. Travellers save up to 85 per cent on roaming worldwide.
Gregory Gundelfinger, chief executive officer (CEO) of KnowRoaming told Disrupt Africa the solution is completely transparent. There are no contracts, with travellers prepaying and tracking their usage in real-time using the KnowRoaming app.
“As an avid traveller, I used to carry a bag of SIM cards with me. SIM swapping was annoying but the bigger pain was spending the first half of my day trying to find a local SIM card. I needed a better solution and thought other travellers probably did too,” he said.
Gundelfinger and his cousin Mathew Stein began research and development on KnowRoaming in 2012 and went to market with the Global SIM Sticker in November 2014. The company has since grown to 70 employees.
Pricing transparency, or the lack of it, was the key to its growth, Gundelfinger said.
“A lot of competitors have vague pricing plans that are not easy for people to understand,” he said.
“Our pricing is easy to understand. We wanted to provide low rates and we wanted to bring transparency. We wanted to show users every bit of detail relating to the costs that they are incurring while using our service.”
Funded by South African billionaire Nathan Kirsh, KnowRoaming now has agreements with networks in more than 200 countries, and recently launched a Business Solutions division to expand our offerings to corporate clients.
It wasn’t an easy ride getting to this point, however.
“Like any disruptive startup looking to change the world, we underestimated the technology required to be able to deliver a seamless solution,” Gundelfinger said.
“We spent two years of research and development to create our technology and establish our network. There were challenges with sourcing materials for our product and establishing our distribution chain. We’ve been fortunate enough to find hardworking partners who have helped us navigate this road.”
That road has led to MWC in Barcelona, where this week KnowRoaming announced a partnership with global mobile and internet firm TCL Communication to launch the “Smart Roaming” Soft SIM solution, allowing users to benefit from a handset-integrated, low-cost roaming solution while travelling abroad.
In the future, the KnowRoaming technology will be natively integrated into select TCL Communication’s handsets, starting with the Chinese market but to be extended in other global markets, where TCL’s mobility division operates under the ALCATEL brand.
“We are very enthusiastic to enter into the commercial phase of our partnership with KnowRoaming on the Smart Roaming solution. We believe this is both an opportunity for TCL Communication to further develop its Internet and Service positioning and revenues and for KnowRoaming to scale its business on our worldwide customer base. It is a perfect example of a win-win partnership with a startup enabled by our startup acceleration program” said François Chambon, TCLCommunication’s Innovation Labs director.
Gundelfinger said his company was excited about the partnership.
“With the integration of our Soft SIM Platform – right into the handset – users can stay connected while they travel in a way they never could before. This is the future of global roaming,” he said.