A mobile phone sim card is set to go on sale which automatically switches between UK mobile networks offering the best signal at any given moment.
The national roaming idea behind the sim card is the brainchild of Lancashire-based start-up Anywhere Sim, which aims to launch its notspot-tackling service within the next five weeks. The new mobile network hopes to make it easier for UK users who live in signal dead zones.
A handful of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) already offer national roaming in the UK, but rather than being consumer-focused they target their products at business customers. The main operators such as Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three have managed not to succumb to government pressures to offer the service themselves.
Anywhere Sim will be more expensive than single-network alternatives and one expert told the BCC that demand for the new service might be limited by its costs. However, for users based in rural areas, it could prove an attractive idea.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid had proposed that the telecom firms automatically switch users to different 2G signals when their own network had poor reception, but the operators prefer to extend their own coverage instead.
To set up its service, the start-up teamed up with a business based outside the UK that had roaming agreements with the country’s networks. “[It will appeal to] people who have experienced coverage issues,” the firm's founder Matthew Wright told the BBC.
“So, people who live in rural locations and those who travel a lot and experience notspots - for example, people that spend a lot of time in caravans and those who pursue outdoor pursuits, such as cyclers, runners, walkers, anglers, there's a long list that could benefit outside the big conurbations.”
The company will sell its pay-as-you-go sims via its own web site, and via both eBay and Amazon, with a pre-launch offer already available as an annual sim that comes with £120 credit and 365 days of service. The basic domestic service will charge 5p a minute for calls, 5p per SMS text and 5p per megabyte of data.
However, users can’t swap mid-call between networks. They would have to end the call and re-establish contact. Also, there is no 4G service offered as yet, even though Anywhere Sim hopes to add one in a year.
“There are lots of networks, all offering slightly different combinations of tariffs and pricing, which essentially all do the same thing – enable us to communicate,” the company said on its website. “The problem is that without exception they all have lots of network 'notspots' where there is no signal – so no communication.”
The basic service only lets consumers receive calls across all the networks, but limits dial-outs and data use to O2. Users will have to pay double the price per call and per megabyte of data if they want to be able to make calls and use the internet across all the networks.
“You are paying slightly more, there is a small premium, but then you would expect that to be the case,” said Wright, adding that his service remained competitive, since many users do not exhaust their monthly allowance.