3 minute read

I want worldwide phone and data service. And I think the only way to get it is to build a better phone.

I know that companies like T-Mobile1 are making some progress toward reasonably priced world coverage, but it isn’t going to come quickly and it is going to come cheaply. I believe the challenge for the companies is that when a consumer thinks of a company, like T-Mobile, they think of a single entity. In reality T-Mobile is a collection of companies that roll up into one.

This difference is significant. Internally this means they have to work out transfer pricing when charging between units. Normally transfer pricing is thought of something that happens between suppliers and consumers that are co-owned. In this case, it is for roaming. The problem is that some of these companies may have regulatory requirements that prevent them from offering “themselves” preferred pricing. This means that roaming is just expensive and unlikely to really get cheaper2.

Even ignoring that, the company has a goal of extracting as much money from customers as possible. Therefore when I roam, I either have to pay a hefty fee for the privilege. This fee could come in the form of one-time charges because I am a prepay customer or a low rate postpay customer. Another option with some companies is to become a high rate postpay customer and essentially pay for my roaming every month.

As a customer, I don’t want to allow the company to extract a lot of money from me. So I want the cheapest monthly plan and then the cheapest roaming plan. That isn’t sustainable from a business perspective so it isn’t available for me to purchase.

This leaves me having to purchase local SIMs. And this kind of sucks. For one thing, not all places in the world make it easy to get all SIM sizes. For example, my current phone uses a nano-SIM and it was a challenge to get one in parts of India. My phone also is a single SIM phone, so if I have two or three SIMs I want to keep active it isn’t easy3.

My proposal is a simple hardware device. It needs the following features:

  1. Small form-factor. The smaller the better. Think a deck of cards.
  2. Long battery life. Fill up every square inch of the case that isn’t needed elsewhere with an easy to recharge battery.
  3. 2+ SIM slots. Bonus points if they can take multiple sizes.
  4. “Magic software” that allows another phone to use these SIMs for SMS, MMS, and calls. This is basically an app that can send/receive to/from this device. Not actually all that hard or magical. This eliminates the need for any handsets or displays on the device. It also makes my multiple SIMs and Data feel like they are all on my main phone.
  5. The ability to share data (and tether the “magic software”) via Wifi and Bluetooth (if Bluetooth is more efficient).
  6. A hardened exterior that can take a fall. A clip/tie-down mount point so I can clip it or hang it somewhere in my bag.

Build me this please lazyweb!

  1. I am not a T-Mobile customer or shareholder. I just happen to know they have some “mostly” world-wide data plans now. 

  2. I used to have a dream about starting a world-wide VOIP+cellular company that would use technology to bypass the incumbents. You could sign on as a MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) and use a VOIP backbone to bypass the problems. But then … regulations. 

  3. Yes, I could get a multi-SIM phone - but I haven’t found one that has other features I want for day-to-day use. I could also swap SIMs a lot. This sucks as well as some apps want your phone number to remain constant and freak out with annoying messages if you change SIMs. Don’t even get me started on the buzzkill of carrying two phones.