Roam Mobility sells a “self-activating” simcard you can put into an unlocked phone as soon as you cross the border that will give you roaming privileges for a defined period – anything from two days to six months.
"Three dollars a day gets you unlimited talk and text, including unlimited calls in the U.S. back to Canada – use as much as you want. Add another $1 a day to your package and you get another 300 MB per day to use, “ says founder and CEO Emir Aboulhosn.
Aboulhosn started Roam Mobility because he hated paying roaming charges.
He sells his simcards through airlines and through a network of U.S. retailers, as well as online. You select the amount of talk and/or text you’ll use, then put the card into an unlocked phone.
“What we call our service is roaming replacement. So the idea is they’ve got a network waiting for them when they cross the border, that way they don’t think about roaming when they go to the U.S,” Aboulhosn said in an interview with CBC's Lang & O'Leary Exchange.
So far, close to 100,000 Canadians have signed up and the business is already profitable, despite the low fees, he said. Roam is expanding its retail presence in Canada and plans to look at expansion into Europe.
Canadians spend nearly $1 billion annually on roaming fees, half of that for using their smartphones in the U.S.
It’s such a hot-button issue, the federal telecommunications regulator has ordered the big three telcos to get roaming rates down and launched an investigation into why they are so high.
There were so many complaints about high data roaming fees, the CRTC set a cap of $100 a month, an amount some carriers argue is too low.
But even the cheaper roaming plans the telcos are offering are still double or triple the cost of Roam Mobility.
Aboulhosn said the wholesale rates that carriers charge each other to carry a signal are part of the problem – they’re just too high.
"The problem with the CRTC approach is it doesn’t really understand how roaming business works," he said.
"You can’t always blame the carrier, the contract between Rogers and AT&T for example could be a fairly high price and they just add a markup and pass it on to consumers."
But Roam has deal to keep costs low — a resale agreement with T-Mobile USA Inc. to provide its customers local rates for talk, text and data while riding on that big U.S. carrier's 4G wireless network.