Interview Date: November 1, 2010
Can you share a little about how Cellular Abroad was created, and came
to be a leading provider of international mobile services?
[Harrison] I grew up between Rome, Italy and Los Angeles, CA and have always traveled back and forth. About 15 years ago, when having a cell phone became common, I had two phones – one for the United States and one for Italy. Since I didn’t incur roaming charges, it was a very cost effective and way of staying in touch. I felt that it would be a great solution to offer to travelers going to Italy and hence, after much initial resistance, we became distributors of the Italian carrier Telecom Italia Mobile in the United States. The initial resistance was because TIM didn’t initially have a program in place to distribute their services outside of Italy. TIM was our first carrier that we worked with, and now we have about 50 direct relationships with carriers.
||[PWG] What’s Cellular
target demographic? Are you targeting business travelers or
[Harrison] Our demographic is anyone going abroad who wants reliable and affordable cellular service. Leisure travelers, students, and business travelers are our market. We really do not target, nor seek out corporate clients, as they tend to be difficult to penetrate and slow for them to make changes. They usually have relationships with the huge carriers and, as the money is not coming out of their pockets directly, are in no rush to do the work to save money.
[PWG] What’s Cellular Abroad’s value proposition? How do you differentiate your services from your competitors?
If people know about our services they are almost always interested. We
two types of services, “country specific” and
roaming. Country specific
are when a customer would get a pay as you go SIM card for a specific
The roaming solution is branded under the National Geographic banner, and in terms of coverage, is essentially the same service and coverage one could expect from Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile but at fraction of the price, including unlimited free incoming calls in 70 countries.
||[PWG] Wireless broadband is a
rapidly growing segment. Can you describe your current
offerings and future plans?
[Harrison] The interest for international broadband while traveling abroad parallels the growth and interest here in the United States, but roaming through US carriers is incredibly expensive. What makes the most sense is not to roam and get a local solution. Again, costs are small fractions compared to roaming. Cellular Abroad is adding countries to our list. Currently we only offer broadband services in select locations, but are expanding our services to other countries as we speak, and it is of paramount priority for us.
wireless carriers begin to offer more flexible services, with
competitive international pricing, how will Cellular Abroad position
itself as the better option?
[Harrison] The major wireless carriers invest millions of dollars in marketing their international solutions, but their focus is not on competitive pricing as really, they do not have much outside competition. On pricing, I think it would be very difficult for them to compete with a company like ours, particularly for non roaming solutions. As an example, China Mobile charges them significantly more than $0.05 per minute for voice services. In terms of customer service, in general, they have a long way to go regarding international services. Having said that, it is certainly not always straightforward.
than direct from your website, where can prospective customers purchase
your products? Do you, or do you plan to have distribution in
[Harrison] Customers can purchase the National Geographic Travel Phone or the stand alone travel SIM through many online stores, including Amazon.com, Buy.com, NationalGeographic.com as well as CellularAbroad.com. There are a few brick and mortar stores that sell the products as well, including J and R in New York. We are also working on selling directly in airports and are in talks with a couple well-known stores with multiple outlets.
Figuring out what cellular service to use while traveling abroad can be
a fairly overwhelming process for the average traveler. How
Cellular Abroad make the purchasing and customer experience better than
[Harrison] There are many different options and travelers have individual needs. We encourage our customers to call us and speak to a live rep so that we can give them the best solution for their specific needs. I think that we are unique in the sense that we are always focused on the customer’s perspective, and we always encourage them to go the least expensive route, as well as offer tips on how they can best save money for their communication needs.
Cellular Abroad offers phone rental, phone/SIM purchase, and SIM only
options; how do customers use your site to determine what’s
option for them?
[Harrison] We usually break travelers’ needs into two categories; travel to two or more countries or travel to only one country. If a traveler is going to two or more countries, we generally recommend a National Geographic Travel Phone solution. If they are going to one country, we usually recommend a country-specific solution. There are of course exceptions. For example, if a customer requires a US based phone number we will always recommend the Nat Geo solution. Since many travelers have unique services, this is why we recommend them to call and speak to a customer service representative directly.
customers activate their own compatible mobile broadband card on your
service, or are they required to purchase a broadband modem from
[Harrison] Currently we only offer the service on our hardware. One important reason for this is that we need to make sure that there are no configuration or compatibility issues.
||[PWG] Can you tell us about the
National Geographic talk abroad travel phone?
[Harrison] The National Geographic Travel Phone is an easy to use, pay as you go cell phone service for international travelers. Many US based phones do not work internationally. Those that do are very expensive to use. The major benefit is the low rates without a contract. Service is available in over 200 countries and there is free incoming calls in 70 of them. There are destinations that the major telecoms literally charge $4.99 per minute, and we offer unlimited free incoming calls. The number one question we get is, “how do you do it?” It really is not a miracle. The only thing that is miraculous is how AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and the others is how they can get away with charging so much.
Innovation has a lot to do with staying ahead of the competition; is
there anything you can share about any exciting new products or
services that customers can look forward to seeing from Cellular Abroad
in the next couple of years.
[Harrison] We are always looking to improve and expand our service and offerings. We recently launched a $99 National Geographic Travel Phone and we are launching international MiFi broadband services. The MiFi is an incredible device. It basically allows you to create your own hotspot and use any device that has WiFi. Therefore, say you have an iPhone and an iPad, but your spouse has a Blackberry and you are going to Italy. You can simultaneously use any of those devices. Up to five devices can be used at one time. The MiFi is about the size of a cell phone and is battery operated so you do not have to be tethered to a socket. In fact, it works quite well even on a train or in a car.
Unlimited service is really getting a lot of attention, specifically in
the prepaid market. Will Cellular Abroad offer any unlimited
services, perhaps even combining voice and mobile wireless broadband
for people on extended travel?
[Harrison] We work with many international MVNOs and, for our country-specific solutions, whatever they offer is what we offer. There are a few unlimited options for broadband but fewer for voice. A couple of the carriers we offer service for have free network-to-network calling.
Is there anything else about Cellular Abroad that you’d like
out that you think would be of interest to prospective customers?
[Harrison] Almost every day there is something that gets my attention. Just today I learned that our customers in New Zealand can call back to the United States or Canada for a $2.00 flat fee for a call up to an hour. We are also working on a pay as you go solution for international wireless broadband with National Geographic. The solution currently exists but we will not take it to market until there are vastly significant savings over roaming with a US provider. I would recommend that customers visit www.cellularabroad.com and explore our ever evolving services.
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