How This Company Is Easing the Hassle of Connecting While Abroad

For international travelers, using one’s own phone while abroad can be costly, but going out of the way to purchase a local SIM can be complicated and inconvenient. In this episode of Mastering Innovation on Sirius XM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Ravi Rishy-Maharaj, Founder and CEO of GigSky, discusses how he and his company have set out to smooth these connectivity hassles using emerging embedded SIM technologies.

After the smartphone was introduced and the demand to be constantly connected grew, many returned from overseas trips to exorbitant phone bills caused by roaming charges. In response to this frustration at the expense of using data abroad, Rishy-Maharaj founded GigSky, a SIM card-based services company that utilizes the recently introduced “eSIM” to provide convenient connectivity through the ease of an app. Ravi elaborates on how he and his team figured out how to build their own network from the ground up and discusses the near-future developments of 5G wireless technologies.

An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.


Ravi Rishy-Marahaj (Founder & CEO, GigSky)

Ravi Rishy-Maharaj: What GigSky wants to do is bring wireless connectivity to people all over the world in a very convenient and affordable way. That’s what we set out to do. It was really associated with my own frustration when I was traveling way back. I bought the first version of the iPhone when it came out, and so I started using my iPhone as I traveled all over the world. And I don’t know if you remember those days, but traveling and using data on your phone was extremely expensive.

Nicolaj Siggelkow: Absolutely.

Rishy-Maharaj: And you could come back and get a roaming shock, a big  roaming bill. So I started looking at how we could solve this problem. That’s how GigSky started.

Siggelkow: And so how does it work?

Rishy-Maharaj: Today, the best implementation of GigSky is in the new iPhone XS, there’s something called an eSIM as part of the phone. It’s a secondary SIM in the iPhone. The way the iPhone works now is it has two SIMs: the primary SIM from your carrier, and then an eSIM that’s embedded. You don’t take this thing out or put it in; it’s just part of the phone.

Siggelkow: Okay.

Rishy-Maharaj: And so on that eSIM, you can order a second service. Some of the major carriers will be offering you a second line, and the second line could be a business line. You would use your business line for business purposes, and your plastic SIM would be used for personal reasons, as an example.

GigSky is a carrier that is only a data carrier. All we do is provide data services all over the world. And so when you use the GigSky app on your iPhone, you will be able to land in a location — let’s say you’re going to the U.K. and you want to buy a data plan from us. You’ll be able to land in the U.K., use our app, and find three or four different services that are available to you in that location. For example, you could buy a $10 plan for just a day, or you could buy a $50 plan for 30 days and get 5 gigabytes of data for 30 days on that plan. It’s intended to be used for people who travel or who need to have a data service from a different provider. And it’s typically a short-term plan — one day, 14 days, or 30 days. That’s the way it works just by using a GigSky app on a new iPhone.

The key thing for us is that GigSky’s technology plumbing is integrated directly into iOS to make this happen, and so to activate the plan you need to download the app. It’s also built into Windows 10 devices. Microsoft has introduced Windows 10 always connected PCs, so if you are Windows user and you have a laptop or a tablet that uses Windows 10 and has an LTE modem built in, then GigSky is also built into those devices. And then, of course, we’re doing some additional work with Google to make sure the Android folks are not ignored. We just recently announced that we’re supporting eSIM on the Pixel 3.

Siggelkow: Basically, it reduces the hassle of having to buy local SIMs? That would be the alternative solution that people use right now for that purpose?

Rishy-Maharaj: Absolutely. It’s the convenience that you could buy the service right on your dual SIM phone, just by using an app. It’s very convenient, and what we try to do is provide a competitive price. You could always get a local SIM card, put it into your phone, and get a local service probably at a better price than we offer, but our service is for those travelers that need the convenience. They don’t want to spend 20 bucks taking an Uber to some carrier store, buying a SIM card, and activating the service, etc. It’s the ultimate convenience, so it costs a little bit more.

Siggelkow: Obviously, you are not providing the data. So in some sense, you’re a reseller of the data from local providers when they go to the U.K., or am I not right on that one?

Rishy-Maharaj: Actually it’s quite different. We are a data provider. The service operates on a GigSky network, and we are essentially the ISP. What the visited network does is allow you to connect to their network through the radio connection on your device to their towers. We pay the other operators to allow you to connect to their towers, but the underlying data connectivity is provided through our network.

Siggelkow: Interesting. That doesn’t sound cheap to develop. There you were sitting at some airport grumbling about, “Gosh, I have to get a SIM card. Let me change the world and create a company,” to, “Now I’m a data provider worldwide.” That cannot have been an easy path.

Rishy-Maharaj: No, it wasn’t. If I could look back and ask, did I want to do this? The answer is absolutely not. We ended up building our own mobile network from base one. I’d never built a mobile network before. Of course, I’m a technology guy and an engineer, but I didn’t know how to even start to go about building a mobile network. We had to learn how to build a mobile network because we implement a mobile core. We’re no different than AT&T or Verizon in that we have a mobile core. Of all the routers and technology, the systems that are required to operate a mobile network, the only thing we don’t have is what’s called a RAN, the radio access part of the network. Essentially, the towers.

We had to build this from scratch because there was nothing around. There was no software that would allow us to build a service where you could order it on the fly, get connected in 30 seconds, and be off and running. There was nothing like it. We started building the infrastructure and software, then we had to build a network to support it. We had Apple as a partner a few years back, and when you have Apple as a partner, there are certain requirements you have to meet. Of course, it was going to be expensive. Looking back, I’d say we never knew what we were getting into just to solve this simple problem. It turned out to be fairly expensive but very interesting as we went along.

The idea of creating a mobile operator that operates out of the cloud was something that we did at the same time. There’s no big iron systems that are sitting here where all of our software operates. GigSky operates completely on Amazon cloud. We built the system to be highly nimble, highly expandable, and able to address a broader market as we grew the business.

Siggelkow: Everything, as you’re saying, is data. We just had a conversation with Scott Snyder on 5G on the earlier segment of the show. Does that affect your business at all, the developments around 5G?

Rishy-Maharaj: The big part of 5G, the spectrum that’s being used for it and the radio towers that are put up to operate the spectrum and make the device interoperate, we don’t have that part of the problem. When 5G comes along and our network operator partners support 5G, we have some upgrades to do to our network, but we’ll automatically support 5G.

Today we support LTE, and there’s a fallback to 3G and 2G. Going to 5G, once our operator partners offer that and Apple or Android devices support 5G connectivity, we will be there too.

About Our Guest

Ravi Rishy-Maharaj’s career spans over 25 years in high-tech where he led technology and business teams across a diverse set of areas including Mobile, Wireless, Telecom & Networking, Enterprise Software and Microelectronics. A serial entrepreneur and founder of GigSky – the first global mobile data network and leader in eSIM based services delivery, and Kinaare Networks – a pioneer in IoT platforms and devices. Also, founded Digital Microsystems (Canada) – which developed networked-security/energy management consumer products.

His other experiences include product marketing and management at Sun, Apple, and Nortel. In engineering, his work spanned networking, switching systems, data acquisition, computer integrated manufacturing, alternative fuel and embedded systems. He graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Computer Engineering from McMaster University and completed post-graduate studies in Engineering at McMaster and in Business Administration and Economics at York University.

Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.