Smartphones have gone through numerous iterations and evolutions ever since they were introduced. However, a central component of every phone is a SIM, which is yet to go through any major developments. Those who travel a lot know all too well about the problems associated with getting a physical SIM card for a smartphone, especially while visiting other countries.
A startup from Singapore, Airalo has come up with an ingenious idea to make every traveller’s life easier. Almost all new smartphones are now being offered with an eSIM, which is basically a SIM that’s already embedded inside the device. Even though an eSIM is present, not many people know how to use it or set it up. This is where Airalo comes in. The company is the world’s first eSIM store that offers local and global eSIMs that one can set up in minutes.
What’s an eSIM?
To understand what Airalo is and how it works, we need to know a little bit about eSIMs. Google first announced a new eSIM technology with its Google Pixel 2 lineup and the feature was also adopted by Apple in its iPhone X series. The concept of an eSIM is fairly simple as any device with an eSIM enables you to download a SIM card configuration, which allows connecting to a network. So, instead of running around for a local physical SIM, you have virtual eSIMs that can simply be downloaded onto your phones and you are good to go.
An added benefit of an eSIM is that travellers can purchase a local eSIM when travelling at local prices, which is much cheaper than opting for a roaming plan. You no longer have to face the hassle of changing physical SIM cards, or phone numbers and carrying multiple SIMs. Airalo can be used for eSIM compatible smartphones, tablets and PCs. The online store gives access to over 100 eSIMs at an affordable, local rates from around the world.
How Airalo works?
Right now, Airalo is working on getting its app published for Android and iOS. In the meantime, you can head over to the company’s website to browse through eSIM packages for the destination they are headed to. After selecting a plan, pay for it via PayPal, credit card or in-app currency called Airmoney to get a QR code. This code can be scanned by any eSIM compatible devices by heading over to the eSIM menu that’s located in the settings menu.
Once the QR code is scanned, a new eSIM profile that was previously selected would be downloaded onto the eSIM for the particular destination. Network connectivity will be made available on your device when you are in the country you bought the eSIM for. Additionally, a device can hold up to 50 different eSIMs, which means you can travel anywhere you want and keep switching to the eSIM of that country to get instantly connected, without any hassles of running around for buying local physical eSIMs.
There was a time when we used to rent out or buy CDs and DVDs to watch movies or listen to music at home. With better internet connectivity and new operating systems came apps like Spotify and Netflix, which aggregated all the content we wanted and offered it to every subscriber, at any time. Airalo is similarly an eSIM aggregator that onbords telcos that are eSIM ready. For example, the company has tied up with French Mobile to offer the telcos’ eSIMs in France. Similarly, JA! Mobil provides eSIM services via Airalo to people who are travelling to Germany.
Tackling challenges and creating awareness
Since eSIM is a comparatively new technology, not many people are aware that their devices even have the functionality. In addition, there are only a handful of devices that support the feature. This is one of the primary challenges faced by the company. As per Airalo’s founder, Bahadir Ozdemir, “there are over 60 million devices that support eSIM but most of them are not using the feature because users either don’t know their device supports it or they don’t know how to get an eSIM.”
Airalo is using social media and email campaign to inform people about the technology and how it can be used to their benefit. The catchphrase being, “What if you could install the next destination SIM card even before you go there?” and only 10 days after a soft launch, Ozdemir says Airalo had customers from 40 countries who purchased an eSIM and were connected in 67 countries.
As for the limited eSIM devices, around 400 million devices are expected to support the technology by the end of 2020 and about 2.5 billion people are touted to have an eSIM compatible device by the end of 2024. Airalo will also be producing video ads that will go up on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for helping people know more about the company, eSIM technology and more.
Partnering for prolific service
The more companies that are onboard, the more diverse services Airalo will be able to offer to its consumer. Currently, the company is working with Telenor to bring eSIM connectivity options for users in Norway. In the UK, the company is leveraging 3’s network and KPN’s network in The Netherlands. Ozdemir notes that the startup currently covers 113 countries with its services, which consists of almost all the important countries that are frequently visited by travellers.
Airalo is also working on forming partnerships with some of the biggest Online Travel Agencies and airlines in a span of few months. If this comes to fruition, it would be a brilliant proposition. Consider booking an Airbnb or a flight ticket to another country and getting an eSIM via email after you check out. However, this is just a short term goal for the company’s founder as Ozdemir has big plans. His vision is to make Airalo the biggest telecom company without any spectrum or towers, similar to Airbnb and Alibaba, which don’t have their own assets but are still some of the biggest companies in the world.
Airalo was part of Antler’s incubator program and it soon received investments from Antler and angel investments from Jeremy Bonin, who is from a French telecom company. Ozdemir received a total capital of $150,000 (€136,137 approx) when Airalo was just an idea on paper. Just recently, the company secured $1.75 million (€158,824 approx) in its seed round of funding.
Airalo is currently focussed on creating a brand that is loved and recognised by its users. It will be using most of its funds to acquire customers and create a trustworthy brand that goes above and beyond for its users. Additionally, it will focus on growth and scaling up since the company’s team consists of 8 teams at the moment.
Sailors, SIM cards and beyond
Even though Airalo’s founder, Bahadir Ozdemir, dropped out of college, he wasn’t deterred from becoming a serial entrepreneur. He founded 8 companies in the last 15 years and some of them include Vestra (a web-based ship tracking sales robot), Sim4crew (a global sim card for seafarers) and Bibi (the world’s lowest-data messenger). Before Airalo, since the last 10 years, Ozdemir was working with sailors around the world who would ask him for help with arranging local SIM cards, and the idea of Airalo was born from the necessity of sailors requiring multiple physical SIMs for their destinations.
Soon after, eSIMs were announced on smartphones and Ozdemir jumped at the opportunity to disrupt his own physical global SIM business. Which he was working on, at the time. Since the eSIM tech is not too old, telecom operators who are eSIM ready were surprised to find that there’s an online eSIM store like Airalo. They quickly jumped onboard since their current models are based on offline sale of physical or eSIM cards where a customer walks into their store. Since Airalo gives everyone an option to buy an eSIM even before they set foot in another country, it was already a lucrative deal.
Future of connectivity
Ozdemir believes that the future of connectivity is seamless interaction without any borders. Right now, one needs to sort out connectivity problems when they are travelling internationally but sometime soon in the future, connectivity might just be a default state that we don’t have to give too much thought to. It is expected to be less complex where someone pays a one time fee per month and they get seamless connectivity and don’t have to worry if they are in The Netherlands or in Singapore. There might even come a time when there would be a single global number.
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