Irish firm signs J1 worker deal with T-Mobile USA


26 Apr 2004

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Irish mobile firm Fonepool.com has signed a two-year contract with T-Mobile USA to provide J1 visa holders from more than 20 countries worldwide, that will be working in the US for the summer, with prepaid mobile phone services for the duration of their time there.

Fonepool.com, which is headed by former USIT product development manager Colman Lydon, was launched a year ago to serve the mobile communication needs of Irish J1 visa workers spending the summer months working in America. Because the US mobile networks are incompatible with predominantly European GSM phones, many students are typically without mobile phones in America. Lydon identified a market opportunity with a value in excess of €25m.

As well as providing services to Irish and UK J1 workers during the summer months, Fonepool also serves Australian and New Zealand J1 workers during the winter months. In two months the company will expand its services to cover 20 countries, including workers from Central and Eastern Europe.

Lydon explained: “Our market has effectively grown from a captive audience of 10,000 last year to 60,000 in 2004. The market gets bigger when you think that summer and winter combined more than 200,000 people visit the State on a J1 visa and that’s the market we want to capture with our phone sales.”

Teething problems last year in the shape of a relatively small prepaid mobile penetration in the States (less than 10pc of all total mobile services) as well as a lack of cross-Atlantic SMS services, prompted Fonepool.com to seek an alliance with T-Mobile USA, whose German parents Deutsche Telekom are supportive of prepaid market trends.

Under the Fonepool.com service, student workers for €87 can buy a tri-band phone that works with the TDMA (time division multiple access) services across the US, including €40 credit. “They’re entitled to keep the phones and use them again if they return the following year. Otherwise we would reimburse them 20pc of the cost of the phone if they choose to return the phone.”

Another teething problem discovered by Fonepool.com was the lack of locations or stores where prepaid phone users could top up their services. According to Lydon, Fonepool.com is working with a Dublin-based mobile software company to deliver an application that enables students in the States to simply text message a demand for fresh credit to a specific stateside mobile number which in turn would trigger a transaction for the appropriate amount from the student’s, or their parent’s, credit card.

“Remote recharge is something we have been working towards since day one. The students can buy credit when and where they please from us by simply sending a text message. Our partner on the payment side of things is Bank of Scotland’s WorldPay division. We currently process sales in five currencies, including euros, sterling and US, Australian and New Zealand dollars and will soon include other currencies as well. It’s up to the students themselves if they want to opt in or out of the SMS payment option,” Lydon explained.

Lydon added that the company is planning to offer similar prepaid mobile services to the 15,000 Irish people who travel to Australia as part of the Work Australia programme and has signed a distribution deal with Australian mobile network operator Optos.

By John Kennedy