Sprint hops on Globalgig data roaming bandwagon

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Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) is one of a trio of operators joining UK-based startup Voiamo's Globalgig roaming service, which launches today and promises to sharply reduce mobile data charges for international travelers.

Voiamo's pitch is that using its ZTE-produced mobile hotspot device, people desiring mobile data access in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia can get 1 megabyte of data over a local cellular network for less than a penny. Voiamo data bundles cost $25 for 1 GB, $39 for 3 GB and $49 for 5 GB.

That's a huge savings over operators' own international data plans. AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon's (NYSE:VZ) international plans charge between 15 to 25 cents per megabyte. And their customers who are not on an international plan will pay $20 per megabyte when they travel. Many mobile operators caution their customers to switch off cellular data roaming on their devices when they travel out of their home country.

Globalgig does not require long-term contracts and bills customers on a monthly basis. Users must cancel or make changes to their plan by providing notice up to 48 hours prior to the end of their billing cycle. Five devices can be connected via Wi-Fi to the Globalgig Hotspot, which the company sells online at its website for $119.

The device supports CDMA and GSM technologies across several bands but does not support LTE. Specifically, the company said the hotspot supports CDMA/1X/EVDO at 800/1900 MHz; GSM/GPRS/EDGE at 850/900/1800/1900 MHz; and WCDMA/HSDPA/HSUPA at 900/1900/2100MHz. On the Wi-Fi side, the hotspot supports 802.11b and 802.11g, but not 802.11n.

Voiamo has partnered with three mobile operators for its data roaming service. In addition to Sprint, the company has arrangements with Hutchison Whampoa's Three in the U.K. and Optus, a part of Singapore Telecom, in Australia.

Sprint's local pricing slightly beats Voiamo's in the U.S. market. Though it does not offer a 1 GB data-only plan, Sprint does market a 3 GB data-only plan for $34.99 and 6 GB for $49.99. Those plans support 3G or 3g/4G (WiMAX or LTE) data devices.

Nigel Bramwell, CEO of Voiamo, noted that by using the Globalgig Hotspot for data access, users can avoid purchasing local SIM cards for data service at their destination, enabling them to keep their SIM in their handset for voice communications over their regular phone number.

Voiamo intends to expand the Globalgig product to Asian and European Union markets plus other large global travel hubs over the next year. The company said it is also eyeing the launch of a voice roaming service in late 2013.

Voiamo, which is not funded by venture capital, was formed in September 2007 by Bramwell. It took five years to bring the Globalgig product to market in part because the Voiamo concept was initially based around a voice solution.

"After two years under development, Voiamo identified that the mobile data market was changing rapidly due to the emerging dominance of the smartphone. As a result, Voiamo paused its development of the voice solution and instead focused on developing a solution to address the data roaming problem of roaming bill shock," said a company spokesman, via email.

"The company has now brought to market a solution to address this problem at the exact time that there is the most demand due to increased use of smartphone, tablets and laptops in travelling scenarios," he added.

Mobile data roaming revenues have been a contentious topic, particularly in the EU, where regulators have repeatedly sought to rein in charges. Last week, Juniper Research issued a report forecasting mobile data roaming revenues will grow by 21 percent per year between 2012 and 2017, reaching more than $35 billion in 2017. Western Europe will account for the highest proportion of the global mobile data roaming revenue, said the analyst firm.

For more:
- see this Voiamo release and this release
- see this Juniper Research release

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