Stellar Startups: Can you afford to stay in touch?

Once upon a time, when you went off to get away from it all, you got away from it all: the incessant “buzz” that accompanies modern life.

Webbing 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Webbing 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A vacation these days isn’t what it used to be. Once upon a time, when you went off to get away from it all, you got away from it all: the problems at work, the headaches in the neighborhood, the incessant “buzz” that accompanies modern life.
Now, of course, there’s no getting away from anything. Instant communications, cellphones, laptop computers and a host of other “devices” ensure that we remain tethered to the buzz. Thanks to the Internet and its offspring, wifi and cellular data networks, you can remain “in touch” almost anywhere in the world – for better or worse.
But we’re not here to wax philosophical about the lost world of travel – we’re here to help those who feel they need to remain in touch with what’s happening at home or work. While from a technology point of view you can connect to the Internet from almost anywhere in the world now, from a practical – i.e., financial – point of view, you really can’t. Not unless you’re ready to face a bill of as much as $1,000 for using the cellular Internet services offered by cellphone operators with whom you don’t have a service plan! That figure is not exaggerated, says Noam Lando of Webbing (, an Israeli start-up (now owned by 013Netvision) that has one solution to high cellphone data costs for Israelis abroad and tourists visiting Israel.
“We’ve come across numerous customers who have received bills that high when using their cellphone or other Internet-capable device on a cellular data network outside of Israel,” he says. “We have what we think is a better solution: a cellular modem travelers can use to access the Internet at a far lower cost than the deals provided by cellphone service providers.”
Each day, thousands of Israelis go abroad for business or pleasure, while thousands of tourists arrive for vacations here. One thing many have in common is a need for an Internet connection to stay in touch with the office, check e-mail, etc. Until Webbing came along, both groups had little choice but to use a cellphone service provider’s Internet connection directly (with their devices in “roaming” mode) – a prohibitively expensive option, with rates of $10 per megabyte not uncommon.
Other options include finding a coffee shop that provides free wifi access (how much coffee can you drink?), or to pay for a wifi connection at a hotel or use a national wifi network (like Boingo). But those solutions, too, don’t give you the freedom to connect anytime, anywhere – something you can really only do with a cellular data connection.
That’s where Webbing comes in, Lando says. “We’ve negotiated prices for cell data connections with 40 of the world’s largest cellphone service providers, providing very reasonable rates for anytime, anywhere connections,” he says.
Before going abroad, users can rent a cell data modem from the company that allows connecting up to five devices (iPad, iPhone, laptop, etc.). The modem comes equipped with a data SIM card appropriate to the location you’re visiting; in the US, for example, you get an AT&T data SIM card.
Everything is all set up – you just connect your devices to the modem when abroad and surf! And, instead of paying $10 a megabyte, you pay about $10 a day – for unlimited surfing and data connection.
It’s far cheaper than what you would pay on a roaming basis, Lando says, and it’s also cheaper than you would pay if you were to use your own cellphone service provider’s overseas surfing package.
“For example, it’s cheaper for Israelis to use our package abroad than it is to use packages from Pelephone or Orange,” he says.
Not only that: Webbing’s rates are even cheaper for Israelis using cell data connections from either of those companies inside Israel! “Our connection rates in Israel are indeed cheaper than the rates for cell data access from the cellphone companies,” about 20% cheaper, Lando says. “We can do this by buying data connection time from them in bulk, which enables us to bargain for a better deal.”
However, Webbing’s intention is not to compete with the cellphone companies here, Lando says. “We offer domestic packages to Israelis basically as a marketing move, to get them to use our service here, so they will continue to use it when they go abroad,” he says.
If you’re going to use Webbing for your domestic surfing needs, you’re going to want to buy one of their ZTE modems. Actually, you need to if you want to surf using their SIM card, because “we optimize the modems to work with the cards we provide, and that optimization is unavailable in generic modems,” Lando says.
Still, it’s not a bad deal. The modem costs about NIS 420 with VAT, and it’s payable in up to 36 payments (that works out to NIS 11.60 a month). Five gigs of surfing per month is NIS 68.44 including VAT. The Orange site lists the company’s 5GB surfing package at NIS 118.97 (although there are discounts when you buy a phone from them). And remember, you can use your Webbing 5GB on up to five devices. At least we didn’t have to set up a Facebook page to get cheaper cellphone surfing!