Irish mobile firm in talks to supply US military

16 Sep 2008

In four to six weeks, fast-growing Cork-based voice and date roaming product MAXroam will be launching a reseller service that will allow customers to brand their own SIMs, and which could soon see US soldiers on foreign duty making calls on MAXroam phones.

“The American military approached us to supply their soldiers with SIM cards. This is in talks right now,” said Pat Phelan, CEO of Cubic Telecom, the firm behind MAXroam.

While the MAXroam product is well known in the UK and Ireland, the goal for the next year is to raise the profile in the US, Phelan said, and so far so good with interest from one of the oldest venture capital firms around.

While Phelan is not able to disclose the companies which MAXroam is in talks with about its branded mobile product, he did say that several multinational technology and travel firms have expressed a huge amount of interest.

This new development, which will see firms receiving a fully branded website as well as personalised SIM cards, follows on the heels of MAXroam V2, which made its debut this year at TechCrunch50 and introduced data roaming as well as roaming for US customers.

During his time showcasing MAXroam V2, Phelan said that his experience with Enterprise Ireland in Silicon Valley was extremely positive: “They set us up in a meeting with successful Irish businessman Stuart Coulson, who has written the back engine for many travel sites and was able to give us a plan of attack.”

The data roaming plan will be launched next week and data signup will be pushed out to all current MAXroam customers.

This is serious competition for the big mobile operators as MAXroam claims to have saved its customers US$1m in roaming charges in less than a year of its launch by switching to its SIM when abroad instead of going with their operators roaming plan.

“Our goal is to saturate the market with MAXroam because companies will want to sell their own version of MAXroam, so we have built a fully hosted MAXroam service. It is a completely branded global mobile service,” Phelan said.

If Joe Blogg’s Travel Company wanted to sell a mobile roaming deal to its clients MAXroam could provide a Joe Blogg’s branded mobile where the firm would not have to pay costs associated with mail servers etc but would simply sell on their personalised MAXroam SIM and phone.

As part of MAXroam’s continuing expansion, it also plans to build in a live calculator because, as Phelan said, it is all too easy to tell people about the savings they can make from switching to the product while travelling, but a calculator that takes estimated minutes of data and voice roaming will be able to approximate actual savings in comparison to their own mobile carrier.

Anther plan of attack involves working on a US$10 phone with the ultimate goal to provide both the SIM and phone itself to MAXroam customers for no cost.

“We’re working in Asia with an Irishman Liam Casey, who won Irish entrepreneur of the year 2007, to produce these US$10 phones so you will get your MAXroam SIM ready to go in a phone,” explained Phelan.

“I want to be in a position where we can sell the phone and SIM combined for €30 because our main problem is unlocked phones. If someone decides to buy a SIM for us, the next hurdle is unlocking his handset to use it. We’re working on that already.”

So, is this expansion a clear sign of success? “We’re now happy with where we are. We are revenue and profit positive.”

MAXroam has gone from four to 13 staff in the past year, and by next year hopes to have reached its millionth customer, with plans for headquarters in the US. Currently, with a quarter of a million customer base, its back-end is already geared up and ready to take on another quarter of a million capacity.

“The overwhelmingly positive response at TechCrunch50 gave us confirmation that we are on the right track: I think we’ll make it! The next step is to give away our SIM for free,” said Phelan with determination.

By Marie Boran