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'We aren't waiting for Viviane Reding': Awayphone

A local number for non-local people

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"The trend of voice call costs is to be free," Awayphone CEO Sherry Madera says - a pioneer of roaming call charge reduction, aiming to beat the European Commissioners to a fair deal for business travellers.

Awayphone sells subscribers a SIM card which routes over the internet whenever possible and offers a local phone number in foreign territories.

"I'm just off to Toronto," she explained. "I'll step off the plane with a Toronto phone number, and as soon as I switch the phone on, people there can get me with a local call."

But at the same time, her London contacts will be able to call her normal London mobile number, and get exactly the same phone.

The launch of Awayphone has been getting good traction with press comment, but Madera thinks some of that has been misguided. The BBC, for example, gave her plenty of space, but equated her service to Skype:

"The thing is, Skype assumes you have an internet connection on your device. Now, when you get off your plane in Beijing, you don't have a local Wi-Fi connection. When you're sitting in your taxi, heading to your hotel, you aren't online, even if you have a Wi-Fi phone - and you certainly can't make 'free' calls from your laptop unless you're calling another Skype user."

Awayphone was born out of Madera's experiences in investment banking, which involved travelling to the Far East a lot. Her experience of roaming charges horrified her, even on a merchant banker's expense account, but what really struck her was that "if you have a Canada phone number and you're in Hong Kong, you're a business tourist, not a business executive".

Her theory is that if you want to be taken seriously as someone who has an interest in the local market, you have to have a local phone number.

Awayphone gives you two local numbers in the countries of your choice when you sign up. Extra numbers can be added to your SIM for £12.50 - a one-time fee, which never needs to be paid again.

The only bit that's missing from an ultra-smooth "presence" in the territory of your choice is proper caller line identity. "We're working on that, and should have it for later this year, Q3," she told NewsWireless.

That will allow you to see which country your incoming call comes from and, eventually, allow you to present a local CLID to the people you call. Currently, it shows "private" which, Madera agrees, isn't ideal.

"Typically, the £25 cost of signing up is saved on your first overseas trip," she claims. "That's enough for our customers."

Copyright © 2007, ENN

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