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Meet GigSky, the Company Behind the iPad's Global-Roaming Abilities

The Palo Alto-based company helps power many of the global-roaming options built into the latest iPads.


It gets just the briefest of mentions on Apple’s website, but a small Palo Alto startup represents the secret sauce that allows the most recent iPad models to roam seamlessly in more than 90 countries.

GigSky, which also offers its services to iOS and Android devices via an app, has roaming deals that allow customers to use their iPads all over the world without needing to rely on Wi-Fi or to purchase service in each country they visit.

While cheaper than what you would pay AT&T or Verizon for traveling abroad, GigSky’s prices are still higher than popping in a local SIM card. In Japan, for example, 500 megabytes of data costs $50, while in England you can get five gigabytes of data for that price.

 In addition to powering global travel options on the iPad, GigSky sells its own SIM card for use in other devices.
In addition to powering global travel options on the iPad, GigSky sells its own SIM card for use in other devices.

“No matter what we do, it’s actually going to cost more than local,” CEO Ravi Rishy-Maharaj told Re/code. GigSky has to strike deals, handle billing and customer support, and run its own data centers.

That said, rival FreedomPop is offering a portable hotspot that works in a bunch of countries for rates generally lower than those offered by GigSky.

Rishy-Maharaj won’t say just how many customers his 65-person company has, but he acknowledges that far more people are traveling overseas with their iPad than are actually signing up for any sort of international service.

While GigSky estimates there are 28 million cellular-equipped iPads out there capable of accessing its service, only a fraction have yet done so (iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3 and 4 are supported). The company estimates that about 700,000 of those iPads are traveling internationally in any given month, but only about 100,000 are actually on some sort of roaming data plan.

“Hopefully, embedded Apple SIM will change all of this, especially since international Wi-Fi calling is now enabled on the iPad,” Rishy-Maharaj said.

In addition to the new calling feature, Apple has made Apple SIM a more permanent presence on the iPad, embedding it into the tablet rather than making it merely one option to go into the removable slot.

Apple is GigSky’s most high-profile partner, but Rishy-Maharaj says more deals are in the works.

While there are plenty of other “travel SIM” companies, GigSky was among the earliest to recognize that data, not voice service, would become the most precious resource when traveling abroad.

Update: It’s worth noting that GigSky isn’t the only company offering global roaming on the Apple SIM. Another company, AlwaysOnline, also offers service in a smaller number of countries (around 50), but has options ranging for as little as one hour or one day of service.

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