Ina Fried

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A 23-Year-Old’s Tiny Cellphone Start-Up Now Looks to Take on the World

Apparently, running his own domestic cellphone service start-up wasn’t enough for 23-year-old John Mardini.

On Wednesday, Mardini is announcing his next goal: Offering low-cost service for users traveling in different parts of the wold. Using a single SIM card, Voyager aims to deliver unlimited data and calling at rates far lower than what is possible via traditional roaming.

To do that, Mardini said Voyager will strike deals with various mobile networks around the world, and also will route international calls as data packets. Mardini said the company hopes to have 20 countries — mostly in Europe — available when the service launches in the first half of next year.

Mardini told AllThingsD that it was this international plan, rather than low-cost U.S. service, that was his main goal in starting Voyager.

“You don’t do anything different on the device,” Mardini said, noting that the phone just shows up as in its home country in any place where Voyager has a deal in place. He said he has applied for a patent on Voyager’s method of handling international roaming.

The service will require a so-called “world phone” that works on Sprint’s network domestically and accepts a SIM card for the international service. Pricing for the phones and service are still being finalized, he said.

After a brief hiccup, the company launched its $39 unlimited domestic service in May. Voyager, which is now selling in about two-thirds of U.S. states, hasn’t said how many customers it has signed up so far.

Mardini is outlining his international plans, known as Project Global Voyager, in a speech Wednesday at a Dallas-area summit for companies like Voyager, known as mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs.

The first generation of such services, which resell time and data on traditional networks, fell flat. However, Voyager is one of a host of intriguing start-ups, a group that includes Ting, Republic Wireless, FreedomPop and others.

“It’s making the word MVNO not a horrible word anymore,” Mardini said of the arrival of so many new companies and business models.

Solavei, which operates on T-Mobile’s network and relies on members signing up other members to spread its service, said earlier this week that it has now signed up 65,000 users since unveiling its plans in July. The company also says it has paid out more than $1 million in commissions to its members.

“Growing 100 percent monthly and paying more than $1 million in commissions in such a short timeframe shows the breadth and scalability of Solavei,” CEO Ryan Wuerch said in a statement.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work