Canadian cellular subscribers fed up with high international data roaming fees have another choice for potentially saving money.

A British-based startup called Globalgig says it can save travelers to the U.S., Britain and Australia money if they subscribe to its service, which is said to run less than a penny a megabyte.

The catch is users have to buy a US$119 hotspot, which connects to mobile devices via Wi-Fi after grabbing a local CDMA or GSM 3G cellular network.

According to Nigel Bramwell, CEO of Globalgig’s parent company, Voiamo, data agreements with local carriers turn Globalgig into a mobile virtual network operator. As a result, travelers are effectively local subscribers rather than international roamers, which enables his company to offer lower data rates.

For example, Globalgig charges US$25 a month for 1 GB of data, $39 a month for 3 GB of data and $49 for 5 GB. By comparison, Telus charges $5 a megabyte for data roaming in the U.S. (or $25 for 5 MB of data).

Subscribers sign up online and have the hotspot activated when they receive it in the mail or by courier. Subscribers don’t sign a contract, so can cancel service with 48 hours notice and reactivate when needed. The hotspot doesn’t need a SIM card.

Asked about the cost of the hotspot, Bramwell said that “in terms of the overall saving the upfront cost of $119 for a device they can use again and again is probably fairly low.”

And the data itself is cheap, he added.

Globalgig’s core audience is business travelers, he said. In fact, he added, up to five devices can connect to a hotspot at a time, making it ideal for teams. Bramwell also said he’s willing to negotiate special pricing for large corporate users.

He hopes to add 12 more countries to his support list and offer 30 in 2014.
According to a just-released report by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), Canadian wireless users are frustrated with the data roaming fees charged by most carriers here. The lobby group said that 89 per cent of Canadian consumers survey feel they pay too much for wireless data when they travel. An equal per cent said they have received an unexpectedly large wireless bid for data roaming when traveling.
PIAC is calling on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to require Canadian wireless carriers to notify subscribers by text messages of the international roaming rates when they cross into another country. It also says carriers should be required to either make subscribers set a dollar limit for data roaming to safeguard against bill shock, or, if a limit isn’t chosen, it should default to $50.
The CRTC will touch on roaming at its Jan. 28, 2013 hearing on the terms of a mandatory code for wireless contracts. One of the issues it will touch is ensuring the prices carriers charge for data and roaming are clear.
PIAC notes that European regulators control the wholesale and retail rates for international roaming.
In the U.S., Globalgig’s agreement is with Sprint-Nextel. 

Globalgig subscribers can use the monthly capacity data in any country: So, if have a 3 GB plan and you’re travelling in January for one week to the U.S. and one week to Britain, you can use up to 3 GB in both countries.

In the U.S., Globalgig’s agreement is with Sprint Nextel.