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No more roaming: Truphone simplifies international phone service for travelers

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Truphone aims to solve a problem common to international travelers: excessive roaming charges. The company has developed a prepaid SIM card, dubbed the Tru Sim, which lets you pay local data and voice rates.

Today, Truphone is showing off its Let’s Connect app, which lets you easily find and purchase local cellular prepaid service to use on the company’s $29.99 SIM card. Truphone claims its rates are cheaper than manually signing up for prepaid service. It also adds the cost of the prepaid service to your normal monthly bill.

“The main problem we solve is the complexity and high cost of staying connected when you are abroad,” Truphone founder and chief technology officer James Tagg said in an email to VentureBeat. “Mobile roaming rates for voice, SMS, and data are exorbitant – so almost all people ‘turn off data’ and ‘forward calls to voicemail’ when they go abroad – or carry multiple phones, duck into and out of Wi-Fi zones – or any other strange workarounds.”

On stage at DEMO, the conference in Santa Clara, Tagg donned safari gear (pictured, left) and told the audience that inspiration hit during a recent trip to Nairobi in Kenya. On safari, he recalled, “the primary thing we discovered is that roaming is hard.” This wasn’t Tagg’s first launch at DEMO; in 2007, he demoed the first VoIP-over-WiFi Call on Apple’s iPhone.

The four sages judging the startups at DEMO were impressed with the utility of the product. “It was probably the cleanest value proposition and something I could see myself using,” said Pete Sonsini of venture capital firm, New Enterprise Associates. “I travel several times a year and am paranoid about massive over-charges,” he said. However, Ross Fubini of Kapor Capital, warned that the telecommunication market is particularly slow to innovate.

Tagg says he’s been thinking about this problem since 2005, and the company has spent quite a bit of time building up the systems, fail-safes, and processes needed to enable a truly global prepaid marketplace. Truphone now has offices in six countries and relationships with more than 60 carriers around the world.

Truphone is one of 75 companies and 6 student “alpha” startups chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Fall 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Photo via Shutterstock

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