This startup wants to help travellers easily access WiFi and 4G networks overseas

Yon Heong Tung
This startup wants to help travellers easily access WiFi and 4G networks overseas

The Nommi mobile router also has inbuilt VPN and wireless charging functions

As someone who travels quite a bit, I know it can be vexing trying to get reliable internet connectivity.

Those who opt for mobile data SIM cards have to figure which networks or price plans best suit their needs; then there’s the hassle of troubleshooting technical problems, such as signal quality and topping up credits, which is exacerbated by the fact that it’s all in a foreign language.

The same goes for accessing public WiFi networks, except that there are also niggling security issues; travellers who need to access their online bank accounts (which, believe me, has a strong likelihood of happening) would put themselves at risk if the connection does not have robust security protocols.

To circumvent these pain points, travellers in recent years have turned to portable WiFi routers as an alternative. These devices contain SIM cards, acting as a hotspot, letting users connect to the internet via their smartphones. Some brands contain their own SIM cards and set their own data charges; others allow users to install any SIM card of their choosing.

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Over the years, manufacturers have also added ancillary features, such as wireless charging. One such manufacturer is Kazakh-run and US-based startup called Nommi, founded by Kairat Akhmetov, a telecom specialist, and Alyona Tkachenko, a corporate marketer.

While both of them hailed from different sectors, as self-proclaimed ‘digital nomads’ they faced the same perennial problems getting good internet connectivity while travelling, and, so, came together to develop a smart, mobile router to address those concerns.

Tkachenko tells e27 in an email correspondence that, based on her personal experience, current mobile router solutions are inadequate.

“We want something simple and beautiful but receive a poorly designed router or a troublesome SIM card with a complicated data plan. The most significant update in ‘smart’ routers has been a focus on simplifying data plans,” she said.

“This is the case as current players focus only in their area of expertise: device manufacturers look at devices, telecom providers at networks, and software developers at apps.” Many times, when these features come together as a single product, they are not optimised. We really wanted to change this and this is why we came out with Nommi.”

Seamless connectivity

Nommi provides 4G connectivity in over 100 countries, via its virtual SIM feature, which allows users to connect to a cellular network without getting a physical sim card (and dealing with the paperwork involved). Nommi downloads the necessary SIM card details from its SoftSim cloud.

Nommi’s data rates are priced at US$4 per day for 500MB. There is also a US$35 for 5GB per month plan, which also includes 50GB VPN encryption, and unlimited dual WiFi usage — its key touting point.

“This is present in some of Huawei’s routers and Samsung’s top smartphones, which they call WiFi sharing,” said Akhmetov. “But we took it to a whole new level of usability. It works as traffic re-routing via a nearby WiFi network to save cellular data and increase speeds if the nearby WiFi network is faster than the 4G connection (which is often true for big buildings).”

“To make it work seamlessly we gathered a database of 900,000 plus public wifi networks worldwide. And it will grow as we will crowdsource it with our users. Using the Nommi, you won’t have to ask a cafe waiter for a WiFi password,” added Akhmetov.

Essentially, this means that Nommi is building a database on public WiFi networks so when a user attempts to connect to one, it will scan through its list of crowdsourced passwords to check if there is a match.

Once Nommi finds one, it will then test the speed of the network. If it is acceptable, Nommi will activate its inbuilt VPN feature, test again, and connect to the WiFi network.

This ensures that the network is both safe, secure and fast before the user links up to the public WiFi network.

Nommi comes in two models: Slim (US$120) and Power (US$150). The former holds 3,500 mAh of battery charge, delivering 16 hours of usage, the latter holds 10,000 mAh of charge, delivering 48 hours.

Beyond hooking up phones, the Power model also allow users to charge their smartphones via its power bank or Qi Wireless charging component.

Reception

Nommi has become a hit on its Indiegogo crowdfunding page, receiving nearly US$70,000 in funding, exceeding its initial goal of US$25,000.

“So far we’ve received pre-orders from more than 70 countries. About 28 per cent of current sales are coming from Southeast Asian countries,” said Tkachenko. “We’ve noted that Southeast Asian consumers love gadgets, are heavy internet users and travel a lot, based on the analytics.”

“I also had a chance to tackle the need for the service with Deep Kalra (founder of MakeMyTrip) during the recent GES in Hyderabad and got initial interest in it,” she added.

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Owing to this, Nommi is considering introducing tailored data plans for Southeast Asia, as well as curating bonus cellular data packages and other incentives to attract users.

“On the service side – we have plans to be fully present and localized on the domestic platforms, that our consumers are used to us, such as WeChat, Line, Whatsapp and so on.”

Nommi plans to recruit a small team to handle the Southeast Asian market this year.

Other future plans

Nommi’s lean crew of six people has been busy securing partnerships with various telecom providers, distributors and corporate customers across the globe, to ensure the eventual roll-out is smooth.

And while that is running, the team is also on the alert for key up-and-coming tech trends to maintain Nommi’s cutting edge.

“We are constantly monitoring GSM Association’s 5G development and will make new Nommi hardware model as soon 5G chipsets as it will be ready for wide production. We plan to make trade-in program for discounted upgrades for our loyal customers,” said Akhmetov.

“We also plan to address needs of the cryptocurrency enthusiasts and make Nommi Crypto edition with a number of firmware changes vs current models.”

Nommi did not elaborate further but said details were to follow soon.

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Disclosure: This article is produced by the e27 content marketing team, sponsored by Nommi. Nommi is offering a 50 per cent discount for both models for customers who wish to purchase them via its Indiegogo page. Click on this link to receive 1GB of free data with your purchase.

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