Expensive mobile roaming fees are the bane of those who travel overseas. One way around this is to use a prepaid data SIM card overseas, but such services can be inconvenient as they require one to switch mobile number. Plus, not all overseas airports sell prepaid data SIM cards.
Enter virtual SIM cards, which offer travellers the best of both worlds by being gentle on the budget without requiring any change of mobile number. Two suppliers of these virtual SIM cards - Singapore-based Interfone and Taiwan-based Taisys Technologies - have emerged in the past year, touting more convenience to jet-setters.
These solutions will benefit budget-conscious travellers and small businesses most, said Mr Clement Teo, principal analyst at market research firm Ovum.
"Bigger corporations? Not so much. They have probably already negotiated bulk discounts from the telcos," he added.
The offerings from Interfone and Taisys work in similar ways: Stick a 0.5mm thick SIM sticker on the chip of your existing SIM card and download an app to allow the SIM sticker to "talk" to its SIM host.
With Interfone's My Interfone and Taisys' Slimduet apps, users are able to download virtual prepaid SIM cards from overseas to their phones before they travel. This means they need not queue at overseas airport counters to buy a physical prepaid SIM card.
"Our solution will replace all prepaid SIM cards with its convenience, and remove all worries of a bill shock," said Interfone's chief marketeer Peter Yu. "You can be in the hotel relaxing already while others are queueing up for a prepaid SIM card."
Interfone's solution, launched two weeks ago, involves call-forwarding so users need not switch their mobile numbers to, say, an Australian number while there. It is already in use by some 500 corporate clients, mostly in Singapore.
Slimduet, available to Singapore users since June last year, currently lacks call forwarding. The feature will be added in the first quarter of next year.
"The biggest selling point now is that Slimduet users can get their overseas number even before they leave their home country, allowing them to notify their contacts ahead of their travels," said Taisys Asia-Pacific senior sales director Roland Ho.
Interfone has its own published rates for call, SMS and mobile data as it buys them wholesale from a third-party provider Jersey Telecom, which in turn has tie-ups with some 100 telcos around the world including AT&T, Hong Kong Telecoms and Singtel.
Taisys, on the other hand, resells the actual prepaid plans of some 200 telcos including Join in Europe, ChungHwa Telecoms in Taiwan and Singapore's StarHub.
Besides using virtual SIM cards, travellers can also tap other products and services to help them stay connected relatively cheaply while overseas. One of them also makes use of call forwarding to help travellers avoid expensive roaming fees or inconvenient workarounds. The service is available in a device called Qongle, created by a local start-up Nineteen69.
Travellers can also rent Wi-Fi routers with country-specific prepaid SIM cards from Changi Airport. Singtel, StarHub and M1 also sell daily unlimited mobile data roaming plans on their preferred partners' networks. The plans start from $15 a day depending on destination.
We look at Interfone, Slimduet, Qongle and others that can help local travellers avoid the dreaded bill shock.