Every so often a product or service comes along that offers a number of serious advantages, and the latest in that long line – for me, and anyone that travels outside of the UK on a regular basis – is Toggle Mobile.
If you’ve ever used your mobile phone outside of the UK, you may have encountered the resultant `bill shock,’ with large cellular phone bills hitting the doormat about three to four weeks after you return to the UK.
The European Commission has done a lot on the regulatory front to the old `pound-a-minute’ call charges reduced to more manageable levels, but even when roaming within the EU territories, most UK cellcos charge at the rate of around the 25 pence a minute mark for outbound calls, and around the 7 pence a minute for inbound calls.
Some cellcos – notably O2 and Vodafone – offer roaming deals, whereby you can use your home minute plan, subject to a per-call surcharge of 50 pence or 75 pence respectively.
Even so, if you’re away for three or four days and make/receive 30 calls, that’s the price of meal out for two gone West (or South, depending on your nationality).
And if you have had the temerity to roam to Australia or the United States, your voice calls bills can be eye-wateringly larger.
In recent years a number of companies have tried to break the back of these charges, by offering discounted roaming deals using a clever combination of call-back systems, special deals between certain carriers, but ultimately, you will end up with a bill – over and above your normal monthly tab – when you return.
Toggle Mobile breaks this problem down by the simple expedient of waiving inboard roaming charges in around 18 different countries – including most of the EU, Australia and the US – and imposing a modest per-call surcharge for a number of other more exotic destination countries.
It also allows outbound calls at around 3 pence per-minute in 12 of those countries – including France, Germany, Spain and other EU territories. Calls in the UK, meanwhile, are charged at just 3p a minute to landlines and mobiles, as well as a wide range of international destinations.
How is this possible?
It is possible thanks to a near-perfect blend of charges that the cellco operating Toggle Mobile – Lyca Mobile – has negotiated with a number of cellular and landline carriers.
Lyca already has what are known as MVNOs – short for mobile virtual network operators – in many Europe countries. A typical MVNO piggybacks on an existing national cellular carrier and typically aims at a narrow segment of the market in that country – usually one or more groups of foreign ex-pats in the country concerned.
Because the call profile of these ex-pats differs markedly from the traditional customer of say, Vodafone UK, the MVNO arranges to route certain types of traffic – usually international calls – via a discounted international call handler.
In this way, a caller on Lycamobile in the UK might call an Indian number and, in return for paying a few pennies per minute, have their call routed via a third-party call handler. All of this happens transparently, and in many cases, the MVNO strikes a flat-rate monthly deal with the call handler for one or more given countries.
This helps the call handler, as well as the MVNO, budget for their calls, as – with customers paying for their calls on a pre-pay basis – the MVNO usually has the advantage of money in the bank ahead of when their customer makes their international calls.
Toggle takes this cellular pricing game to a whole new level – creating what is best described as a Mobile Virtual MVNO or MV-MVNO for short (I made that name up, in case you couldn’t guess).
Basically the national MVNO deals have effectively paid for the monthly block of calls for the MVNO concerned, so Lyca has created the international MV-MVNO (Toggle mobile) to maximise call opportunities for itself.
As a result, any call revenue generated by Toggle Mobile – which has `home country’ operations in the UK and the Netherlands – is icing on the cake as far as Lyca is concerned. Marketing costs are also close to zero, as the service is marketed virally online, and via sales channels such as Amazon and eBay.
Each Toggle SIM card has an advanced set of firmware that allows no less than nine national serial numbers – known as IMSIs and short for International Mobile Subscriber Identities – and which identify the SIM card to a given national carrier.
With nine IMSIs, a Toggle user can register their SIM card for use on up to nine different countries, including their home UK or Netherlands networks, for up to 30 days at a time – and for free – or, if the user wishes a permanent foreign number, they can pay a modest fee (£5.00 per country per year) for this facility.
Once registered for use in a given country – a process that takes between two and four hours normally – the Toggle SIM is then assigned a local IMSI number for the country concerned, and which runs in parallel with their `normal’ UK or Netherlands number.
Once the user visits the given county – say Spain – they can make and receive calls using their Spanish assigned number, and pay 3 pence a minute for calls back to the UK, and typically zero for their inbound (normally roaming) calls with the EU territories, Australia and the US.
Des this sound too good to be true? Possibly, but Lyca is clearly making a little money with Toggle Mobile, and it is still very early days for what is very much a test service.
Where Toggle will lead is anyone’s guess. It may well be that Lyca will eventually increase its ludicrously low charges, but until it does, a variety of international ex-pats and UK, plus Dutch, travellers, will be busy taking advantage of what is a ground-breakingly inexpensive roaming service.
And with inland UK calls just having been cut to 3 pence a minute, and bundles of UK data available from £5.00 for 500 megabytes, the service is rapidly becoming good value for money even if the user wants to stay in the UK…