Last Friday Mobile Syrup posted this article about KnowRoaming, a Canadian company aiming to provide a service for international travellers like me (sometimes). In the words of their CEO:
“With the KnowRoaming sticker, never again will you have to search for Wi-Fi, buy a local SIM card or be shocked by international roaming charges.”
No arguments here about outrageous roaming charges… I’ve been dinged $90 CAD for a call to my mom from South Africa, and a whopping $300 for checking my email in the UK. Now that second charge was incurred on a hiptop, which automatically sucked down a bunch of other data the moment I turned it on. Nonetheless, if you’re not mindful of roaming charges then you’re in for a very unpleasant surprise when you get home.
And yes, depending on the kindness of strangers via sketchy WiFi networks isn’t exactly a best practice, either. You and your data are definitely at risk when you hop on to anyone’s private network. On the other hand, the last five hotels I’ve stayed at all had free WiFi; ditto for the last airport I passed through overseas. I would trust a large-scale network — at least for casual data use — a lot more than something called “linksys”.
But what exactly is so bad about buying a local SIM card?
I’ve used SIMs purchased directly from carriers in Bermuda, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan… Everywhere I’ve used them the experience has been great. Sometimes it’s a hassle making a carrier’s shop your first priority when you land, but in Hong Kong and Taipei you can purchase a SIM right in the airport. And with that SIM you can enjoy (usually) fast data at the same rates that locals pay — sometimes better!
There are places in the world where a SIM-peddling middleman is at least more convenient, if not outright necessary. This past spring I got a data SIM and hotspot for Japan through a third party to minimize the damage from that country’s particularly exorbitant rates. And that’s ultimately what KnowRoaming is — a middleman. Don’t think for a moment that they won’t be taking a cut of the service fees that you’ll be paying while abroad.
Among the other issues I have with KnowRoaming is the hardware required to make it work. From that Mobile Syrup story:
The KnowRoaming sticker is an adhesive that attaches to the pins of your existing SIM and interacts with your unlocked phone to seamlessly switch between networks depending on your location.
Uh-huh… So you want me to put something between my SIM card and the radio of my phone. Gee, that doesn’t sound like a security risk at all. And I’m sure my carrier will be thrilled to hear that I’m modifying my SIM with something that they’ve never tested or even heard of.
If anything KnowRoaming should sell their own SIMs, cloning the data from the user’s home network onto them. But that’s likely illegal, and with good reason.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I like screwing over my carrier as much as anyone else. I just don’t think there’s a magic bullet when it comes to travelling with your phone. I’m of the opinion that the most effective weapons against roaming charges are an unlocked device and a local SIM.
Either that or an account with T-Mobile USA…