Less hassle with travel

Start-up KeepGo ensures economical Internet connectivity while roaming

WiFi hotspot allows connectivity for up to five devices (photo credit: Courtesy)
WiFi hotspot allows connectivity for up to five devices
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It all started when I was fed up with being at the mercy of airport and hotel lounges when trying to connect to WiFi while traveling abroad. I would look down at my device’s lonely “airplane mode” (WiFi only) icon and wait – hoping that it could add those reassuring connectivity arches.
But then the panic. Is the WiFi free? Would it load, but then dash my hopes of Internet connectivity by demanding credit-card information? In this day and age, in this globalized world where the majority of communication is done through the Internet and there’s a start-up or app for all of our worldly desires, surely I could find a company that provides wireless Internet access without having to connect to a local cell phone carrier.
A quick Google search led me to KeepGo, the wireless provider for travelers.
KeepGo offers two attractive options: a data SIM card or a wireless hotspot. Both come loaded with gigabytes of Internet usage, and can be refilled when they run out.
An iPhone-, iPad- or Android-compatible SIM card costs $70, and is pre-loaded with 1 GB of data. That delivers around 100 hours of GPS navigation – which, on my vacation, was sufficient for what I deemed the most crucial use of my phone. (Emails from work? Texts from friends at home? Who needs it when I’m exploring a new city...) The mobile WiFi hotspot is slightly more expensive, at $130. About the size of a small stack of credit cards, it supports up to 10 devices at once.
KeepGo products work in 64 countries, including North America, most of Europe and South America, parts of the former Soviet Union, and Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Thailand. Israel and areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority are also covered.
KeepGo is the brainchild of Israelis Guy Zbarsky and David Lipovkov. Their first venture into the needs of mobile phones was with iPhoneTrip in 2010. At that time, Apple App Store was just starting to gain traction.
The two recognized the advantages and needs of travelers to have a connected smartphone device.
Their original business model was to rent to travelers iPhones loaded with apps tailored to a planned trip.
For instance, a traveler to Japan would rent a phone that already included a local number to make calls, translation services, and restaurant and tourist recommendations.
Zbarsky and Lipovkov headquartered their business in the US, but within a year it became clear that most people were buying their own iPhones, and didn’t need to rent them. What the two entrepreneurs discovered was that people traveling with their smart devices needed a convenient and reliable Internet connection abroad.
They moved back to Israel and re-branded their enterprise as KeepGo. Today they are headquartered in Ramat Gan, with offices in the US and the Netherlands.
They have around 25 employees, “but we are actively hiring,” Zbarsky hastens to add.
Zbarsky identifies their prime target audience as independent business travelers: lawyers, doctors, journalists, bloggers, managers, founders of small companies, and others who cannot be abroad without a reliable Internet connection to work effectively.
“Nowadays, people abroad rely on applications such as Google maps, translator, local search, email and Facebook. Venturing abroad without connectivity is a huge problem, especially for people who work.”
KeepGo offers free shipping and delivery in any of the countries they cover. Customers who arrange delivery to their homes before their trip are encouraged to try out the service to make sure they understand how it works.
The user-friendly website includes a detailed “Frequently Asked Questions” section.
WITH UBIQUITOUS connection to Internet facilitating robust communication through Web-based applications such as WhatsApp and Skype, what does the future of telecommunications look like? “We believe that all telecommunications – SMS messaging and phone calls – will be done via Internet channels,” Zbarsky says.
Already, he explains, regulations in the US allow you to change your carrier without having to change your SIM card. Zbarsky believes that within a few years physical SIM cards will be replaced with virtual SIM cards – which Keepgo is already working to develop.
People will not only be able to change their carrier in their home country, but will be able to sign up to a local carrier in a foreign country.
“You can replace your carrier in a click,” Zbarsky says. “When you go abroad and want to be connected, want to be a subscriber to a local company, or you are out of the coverage of your provider in a given zone, you will be able to switch seamlessly to other carriers.
There will be no more physical barriers or restrictive commitments between providers and the customer.”
Zbarsky can’t help but get a little patriotic at the end of our interview. “Israel is one of the most advanced countries. We have an enormous number of technological innovators compared to the United States. In a country of only 8 million people, we have more cutting- edge competitors in many fields than the US, a country of 300 million.
“It’s just amazing how such a small country can lead in technology worldwide.”
Visit their website at www.keepgo.com