Whether you live in central London or the northernmost tip of Scotland, you've probably experienced flaky mobile coverage at one point or another. Carriers say they're working to fix the UK's so-called "not spots," but customers continue to complain about dropped calls and sporadic 3G coverage. What's the solution? Blending all of the networks together, Anywhere SIM hopes. The Lancashire company has launched a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) SIM card today that lets you take advantage of O2, Vodafone and EE's networks. Whichever has the best service, that's the one you'll be connected to automatically.
The service is almost unprecedented in the UK. The government has proposed "national roaming" before, but the juggernaut UK carriers have, for the most part, been vehemently opposed to the idea. Anywhere SIM is side-stepping the problem by teaming up with Manx Telecom, a broadband and telecoms operator based on the Isle of Man. This company has roaming agreements with a whole host of European networks, including those in the UK. In addition, it has a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) agreement with O2 -- which is hardly surprising, given that Manx Telecom was once owned by Teléfonica, the same company that runs O2. All of this means that Anywhere SIM is able to offer a roaming SIM, with a UK number attached (that part is provided by the O2 MVNO agreement), that works across Europe and with three different networks in Britain. In short, the company treats every carrier -- and pays them -- as if you were roaming abroad.
How much does it cost?
If you want an Anywhere SIM, you'll first have to choose from one of three different packages. "Anywhere Home" has the cheapest rates, but it comes with some notable restrictions; you can only use it in the UK and you can only make or receive calls with O2, the network it has an MVNO agreement with. It does, however, allow you to receive texts and calls using Vodafone and EE's networks. If you choose this bundle, you'll be paying 5p for every minute, text and megabyte of data. Upgrading to the "Anywhere UK" tier will give you full access to EE, Vodafone and O2's networks -- in return, you'll have to pay 10p per minute, 5p per text and 10p per MB. "Anywhere EU," which covers almost 30 countries including France, Germany and Spain, ups the call cost again to 12p per minute.
Anywhere SIM doesn't fare too badly if you compare its "Anywhere Home" and "Anywhere UK" prices to the other UK networks. EE, Vodafone and O2, for instance, all charge around 30p per minute on their standard PAYG rates. The difference, however, is that most of these carriers have moved towards PAYG bundles which give customers a heap of better-value texts, minutes and data. Matthew Wright, founder of Anywhere SIM, doesn't seem too fussed by this though. He says his new SIM cards are aimed at three different groups; people that travel frequently in the UK, over 65s, and European travellers, specifically older holidaymakers. These customers, Wright argues, are "fairly unappealing" to traditional networks because they don't use large amounts of minutes, texts and data -- especially data, because coverage is often so poor in rural areas. As a result, he says, they're less likely to sign up for more expensive (and for networks, lucrative) monthly contracts.
"(Big networks) aren't interested in people that spend £10 every now and again. They want someone that spends £40 per month," Wright argues.
The game plan
So why is Anywhere SIM targeting these lower-usage groups? Well, there are currently over 12 million people at the state pension age in the UK -- and the Lancashire company thinks it can appeal to all of them. It's not worried about upsetting the major networks either, because it's ultimately paying to use their infrastructure. The company also believes it'll grow once mobile roaming fees are abolished across Europe in 2017. The move will, in theory, make its rates cheaper. "Our underlying cost of accessing those networks is going to come down," Wright explains. "Come 2017, our cost to roam will be the same as an internal call. So we will only become more and more competitive as we approach 2017."
An important caveat; for now, Anywhere SIM doesn't support 4G. Wright says his company will offer these faster speeds in the future -- but at present, he argues, the coverage is so sporadic that it doesn't add much for customers in rural areas. Anywhere SIM is also planning to launch monthly contracts next year. If it can launch the two simultaneously, the company might have an offering that appeals to younger customers and city dwellers, not just older folks living in the countryside. As it stands, the new SIM card is a niche proposition -- but any solution to the "not spot" problem is worth keeping an eye on.
[Image Credit: Lauren Hurley/PA WIRE]