Review: KnowRoaming SIM card works for travellers, but speeds are slow

All-in-one chip solves some headaches but causes others

 

The KnowRoaming sim card

Spurred on by the threat of further regulation, Canada’s major cellphone providers are starting to offer customers more realistic roaming options. But such efforts remain expensive, as evidenced by the continuing emergence of third-party alternatives.

The latest of these is Toronto-based KnowRoaming. I profiled founder Greg Gundelfinger and his innovative approach to the roaming problem a year ago. Now, his company has finally come to market with its promised product.

Unlike other third-party roaming options, most notably Vancouver-based Roam Mobility, KnowRoaming doesn’t require users to swap out their Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card upon arriving in another country.

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Instead, the service uses a cleverly designed, circuit-laden sticker that sits on top of your home provider’s SIM card. As long as your phone is unlocked, the sticker promises to switch over to foreign networks without you having to worry about opening up your phone.

Applying the sticker is kind of fun, actually. The product comes with a plastic applicator into which you stick your chip. A quick press and peel later and the gold KnowRoaming circuitry is affixed.

From there, you download the app, set up an account and load it up with some credit. So far, so easy.

Things get a little trickier once you land. The app automatically handles most of the switchover, but you do still have to press a few buttons to install a new wireless profile on your phone. It’s not difficult, but it can be intimidating if you’re not sure what you’re doing.

Everything went smoothly for me and I was up and running within a minute or so. I tested the sticker on a recent trip to San Jose, where KnowRoaming piggybacks on T-Mobile’s network.

The service worked well enough and I can’t say I had any complaints with it. I was able to check emails and my Twitter feed with no issues. On its own, KnowRoaming works and appears to be solid.

I did encounter a hiccup when I returned home, however. My SIM connected to the home network, but the phone I was using – an iPhone 6 Plus – didn’t want to work. I fiddled with some settings and managed to get everything right by deleting the profile I’d installed while in the U.S.

That’s a big strike as I can’t imagine the average user figuring that out.

The bigger problem with KnowRoaming is that it isn’t as good as some of the other options available in terms of pricing or speeds, at least for the United States.

I use Roam Mobility when in the U.S., which also rides on T-Mobile’s network. Roam, however, accesses LTE speeds while KnowRoaming uses only 3G.

Here’s a typical speed test I got with Roam Mobility:

Speedtest results screenshot with Roam Mobility

And here’s what I got with KnowRoaming at the same time and in the same place:

Speedtest results screenshot with KnowRoaming

KnowRoaming’s slower speeds, which are noticeable in actual use, might be tolerable if the service was cheaper, but it’s not. All-important data usage is actually considerably more expensive.

KnowRoaming charges 10 cents per megabyte or $7.99 per day for unlimited usage. In comparison, Roam charges only $4 for 400 MB per day, which is less data but more than enough.

The newer company’s main advantage thus lies in the convenience of not having to swap out your SIM card, which you do have to do with Roam. KnowRoaming also offers service in other a number of other countries, although I haven’t had a chance to test that yet.

The product itself is an impressive technical accomplishment and it could be a decent option for people who travel to many different countries, but if it’s just U.S. roaming you’re looking for, the pricing and speeds need improvement.

KnowRoaming supplied a sticker unit and service credit for the purposes of this review.

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