Launch of novel mobile service for J1 workers


10 Apr 2003

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Two Irish entrepreneurs have embarked on a novel plan in alliance with AT&T Wireless to ensure that students with J1 visas working in the US this summer will have mobile phones for the duration of their stay.

Former internet services entrepreneur John Dennehy and former USIT product development manager Colman Lydon have this week launched Fonepool.com, which aims to provide students travelling to work in the US this summer with mobile phones capable of working in New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. At present, single band GSM phones – which are the most used version of GSM in Europe – don’t work in the US and many students who travel to the country each year have to make do without a mobile phone.

The pair has established an exclusive deal with AT&T Wireless which provides complete TDMA (time division multiple access) coverage in key US cities.

Dennehy’s logic is that between 8,000 and 10,000 Irish J1 visa holders travel to the US each summer. On average, they earn approximately €2,500 over the course of a 12-week period. “That’s a €25m market,” he says.

The service will work in such a way that students will order a mobile phone over Fonepool.com’s website and will collect their mobile phone at the J1 orientation session that visa holders must attend on arrival in the US. A typical summer package would cost €75, with €25 free call credit. When the students are about to return to Ireland, they simply post the mobile phone back to Fonepool.com’s New York warehouse and in turn will be reimbursed with a €10 deposit fee on their return to Ireland.

“Having a mobile in the US will prove invaluable to students that are used to having a mobile in Europe insofar as helping them to secure accommodation and finding jobs,” Dennehy reasons. “As well as this, TDMA phones allow students to send and receive emails, which would prove ideal for concerned friends and family hoping to know how the person is doing in America at any time.”

At present, the US market is only cottoning on to the pre-paid billing model and AT&T Wireless is the only stateside mobile operator that doesn’t charge users for receiving email and text messages.

Lydon told siliconrepublic.com that while the company will be targeting the Irish market this summer, it will be prepared to target Australian, New Zealand and South African students that will be travelling to the US during the autumn and winter months, making the operation a year-round venture.

Dennehy added that Fonepool.com has secured grant aid from Enterprise Ireland to develop value-add billing software that will allow students and their parents to top up the TDMA phones’ call credit via the internet through credit card payments.

The company launched the service this week with a direct mail campaign targeting 60pc of this year’s J1 visa recipients.

By John Kennedy