Cubic launched its service, MaxRoam, at TechCrunch40 last week. The crux of their offering is that you can take a secondary phone with you when you travel, forward your existing number to it, and roam wherever you are at local calling rates. David Pogue wrote it up this week over at iht.com. All you need to get it started is a SIM from their web site, or one of their rather dubious dual-mode phones, manufactured by (no, this is not a typo) Pirelli.
It’s definitely a secondary phone service, as when you instantiate calls it actually signals their VoIP-based call back service to “ring both ends”. Yes, it’s a CallBack service. The result is a fairly long wait time (20-30 seconds) to connect calls. But the savings when you roam across continents or even in the next country over are profound. The fact that it operates on a pre-paid, non-subscription model helps you cost-justify it as a secondary phone.
I’ll skip the phone, thanks, but I plan to use it, but only for incoming calls, when I travel to the U.S. as an alternative to a prepaid plan with the evil AT&T. It also does SMS at reasonable rates but, as yet, not data. So I’ll still be extorted for using my BlackBerry and iPhone on the road.
Feature request: One major issue with using a secondary phone is that when you make outgoing calls, nobody knows it’s you. My calls are far more likely to be avoided by my board members and business contacts because they don’t know the number. Problematically I don’t want to give them that number and add it to my swelling list of phone numbers because it adds complexity and creates a potential dead-end: my MaxRoam number, unlike my mobile phone number, is not mine… and I can’t take it with me.
To resolve this, and much of this depends on the quality of the termination networks and the strength of their relationships with these termination partners, MaxRoam could ask me which phone number I want to identify myself as when instantiating outbound calls via their web site. They could then rewrite the outbound dialing number on their terminating gateways for the leg of the call destined to whomever I’m calling so that it appears as it should on their phone and my name, etc. pops up.
Of course, there are others among us who might enjoy that anonymity. >:)
A problem for MaxRoam in the short term is that all this fiddling, plus the extra call wait times (75% of calls are incomplete, so 25-30 seconds just to get a busy signal or somebody’s voice mail will get frustrating), is not for the faint-hearted consumer market. I anticipate that they will develop a rabid audience of tens of thousands of global roamers who absolutely love their service, but until big strides are made in the usability model it’ll be difficult to break through to the broader market and really kick the snot out of the mobile carriers.
Their greater effect may be to sensitize the mobile phone consumer market further to the gouging that occurs between carriers for roaming, and the utter fleecing which carriers subject their customers to for Long-Distance. Given the myriad benefits in reducing operating cost for VoIP, and given that VoIP has been widely deployed in mobile phone networks for more than 5 years, it is positively criminal that they want me to pay $2/min. to call Brussels from my mobile phone while I’m at home.
I’m worried that, like Vonage, companies like Cubic will invest significant dollars to champion the charge to fairer pricing in mobile telecom, only to get smote by the carriers as they finally cave under consumer, media, political, and market pressures and adjust their margins accordingly.