Local start-up to sell device to help users avoid roaming fees

A LOCAL start-up company claims to have found a cheaper way for mobile users to stay connected while overseas.

Nineteen69 promises travellers that they will not have to pay expensive roaming fees or settle for inconvenient workarounds.

Dubbed Qongle, the device lets travellers call or receive calls from any Singapore number without subscribing to auto-roaming, which costs about $10 a month.

Qongle users also avoid paying overseas call charges that range from 35 cents to $6 a minute, depending on destination - on top of the auto-roaming subscription.

Qongle's main draw is its roaming fee-free home connect feature - represented by its logo bearing the outline of E.T. from the 1982 sci-fi blockbuster, which featured an alien with the catchphrase "phone home".

Qongle creator Stuart Tan said the idea came to him two years ago when he missed an important call from his mother while travelling.

"I did not pick up her call to save on roaming charges but that turned out to be a bad decision," said the 47-year-old.

Nineteen69 was set up in April last year, with the objective of bringing down the costs of roaming. Mr Tan invested $300,000 in the company.

Qongle will be on sale here in June for US$109 (S$147). He is in talks with two telcos and a major local IT retail chain to distribute the device but he declines to name the parties.

Qongle works as a forwarding device, routing calls and SMS messages over the Internet to the travelling smartphone it is paired with.

Users download the Qongle app on their smartphone for making calls while overseas, and for pairing with the Qongle hardware.

Before travelling, users must insert their Singapore SIM card into the Qongle device which is plugged to a power source at home.

The device can be connected to the home Wi-Fi network to save on mobile data use.

Once overseas, users must buy a prepaid data SIM card and insert it into the smartphone. The Qongle app in the phone routes calls and SMS messages to and from Singapore over the phone's 4G or Wi-Fi connection.

Users pay local data charges for calls with Singapore numbers. If the phone is connected to Wi-Fi, the call is free.

Frequent travellers save on roaming fees by buying a prepaid data SIM card in their destination country. But the people they message or call see a foreign mobile number, which may not be convenient.

With Qongle, however, users retain their Singapore number despite using a foreign SIM card.