One SIM card to rule them all? Ukko Mobile aims to slay data roaming fees

One SIM card to rule them all? Ukko Mobile aims to slay data roaming fees

Editor’s note: This article by Dmitri Sarle originally appeared on ArcticStartup, an independent tech blog that reports on digital startups and growth entrepreneurship from the Nordic and Baltic countries.

So you have accidentally enabled data roaming while travelling and your iPad started syncing. Soon enough you will end up with a roaming bill that is likely to be more expensive than your phone.

At other times, you may actually need to connect to the Internet while abroad, but there is no WiFi or any other connectivity option, forcing you to use the 700-euros-per-gigabyte roaming fee to go online (this happens to be the current price ceiling for roaming costs as set by the European Commission).

Ukko Mobile, a Helsinki, Finland-based startup, is aiming to solve that through the use of patent-pending technology which allows for a single-SIM, flat-fee coverage in the whole of Europe.

Basically, you will get one data SIM card that will always act as a local card, no matter where you go. There will not be a need to purchase or switch SIM cards ever again.

We have earlier written about an alternative to this, a 10-SIM card device called Goodspeed by Oulu-based Uros. However, a Goodspeed device costs €273 to begin with and you still need to pay monthly account fees and the extra fees for any of the SIM cards.

Ukko Mobile, named after the mightiest master of the sky in ancient Finnish mythology, promises that they will provide affordable, flat-fee 3G and 4G data connectivity in the whole of Europe. With this premise, they want to become the number one mobile data operator (MDO) in Europe and the rest of the world. 

To find out more, we had an exclusive interview with the company’s CEO, Mikko Uusitalo, and SVP of Products Antti Pellinen.

According to Uusitalo and Pellinen, the mobile data usage is going to expand exponentially in the next couple of years, which should allow for the kind of growth that ISPs experienced in the 1990’s and the beginning of 2000’s. This would allow them to be at the centre of this growth opportunity.

Their idea is not to simply enter the mobile data market, but to disrupt it completely and take roaming out of the equation. To do so, they will issue SIM cards that will always remain local, no matter where you go.

As Pellinen tells us: “You will be able to continue using the service as you do in your home country. You have data access on, wherever you go. You dont have to worry about the costs or connectivity. Your device is simply connected. It automatically changes to the local network.”

So to compare it to Goodspeed, it is not device-centric but a network-centric solution. Unfortunately, this will currently work only for data and not phone networks. So Ukko Mobile is going to concentrate on laptop, iPad, MiFi and other so-called ‘smart connected devices’, which is obviously a limitation.

However, Uusitalo counters with: “You know when you say it limits us, it kind of does. But all the voice is going to VoIP anyways. So we do not believe in classic voice anymore. Even in terms of SMS, WhatsApp does it better.”

If you have a dual-SIM phone, Ukko’s solution should also work quite well. Alternatively, you could get a MiFi device to solve the problem.

The company did not reveal exactly how the SIM card would magically shape-shift and become local in every country you go to, but we did get some explanations from Uusitalo:

“It is about customer identity and how it is managed in the mobile networks across the world. We are able to manage that so that you are always a local customer. So there is no roaming.

How do we get the connectivity? Obviously we need to have a relationship with mobile operators. One per country. Our strategy is to focus on mainly tier 2 and tier 3 operators because:

Number one: they have access capacity.
Number two: they don’t have so much roaming revenue to feel threatened.
And number 3: they are desperately looking for new ways of growing.

The other thing we offer is new channels to market for them. We work with large computer makers and it’s a new upside for them that we offer. We talked to 22 operators so far and got 12 commercial deals already.“

Ukko Mobile is aiming to launch in Q3 or Q4 this year and at launch it will cost 39 – 79 euros per month for a flat-fee coverage of the whole of Europe.

However, you will be able to get different packages for, say, only the countries that you go to or just the local connection, which should be competitive or perhaps even cheaper than what is already available on the market.

Ukko Mobile was registered as a company in June/July 2012, but the team has been working on the product for much longer. To date, they have managed to get funding from TEKES in the amount of 300,000 euros and are currently closing a larger investment round.


Image credit: Christian Paul / Flickr

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