Canadians are choosing Explora for weekend getaways from high U.S. roaming fees

New York City skyline

Raj Patel did not originally consider Canada to be a factor. Of course, Explora’s founder and CEO knew that about 23 million of the 70 million tourists that come to the U.S. each year were Canadian, but he assumed that most of the customers for his smartphone rental service would come from overseas: families on extended trips, unfamiliar with the process of unlocking their phones and picking up local U.S. sims. Or maybe customers from countries like Japan, where global roaming rates for the U.S. could be as high as $10/MB. Surely Canadians would have some form of preferential roaming rates when it comes to U.S. travel, right?

“Actually, that’s completely wrong,” Raj told me with a laugh.

Completely wrong is an understatement. After three months in business, Canadians make up 45% of Explora’s total customer base.

“It was super interesting how much the service got traction in Canada,” Raj said. “We don’t, in all honestly, save Canadians as much [as some of our other international customers], but I’m quickly learning we’re saving Canadians a hell of a lot.”

Price aside, Raj and his team found that Explora’s offering — a Nexus 5 smartphone with unlimited nationwide calling, text messaging, and 4G data for $8/day — was very appealing to a certain subset of Canadians: Toronto or Montreal-based (10% of Explora’s Canuck contingent is French Canadian), travelling to the U.S. for 4-5 days, usually as a last minute trip, and looking for a quick and painless solution to impending roaming doom. These travellers are generally a) not Wind customers, b) not interested in the headaches or fine print of getting their carrier to add an international roaming plan, or c) heavy data users.

Customers are using data at least 1.5 times that of an average domestic user

It’s that final point that differentiates Explora from competitors like Canadian company Roam Mobility. Roam offers considerably cheaper packages for Canadians more interested in talk and text than data, but it’s recently announced LTE plans only offer data at a reasonable price to those staying in the U.S. for extended periods. Explora also doesn’t cap its data offering: “When we say unlimited, we mean unlimited,” Raj said.

Explora’s customers are taking advantage of the data freedom. Raj told me Explora customers are using data at least 1.5 times that of an average domestic user, and that Canadians are anecdotally heavier users than other nationalities.

Recognizing that a significant portion of its customers are arriving for last minute travel, the company has also prioritized expedited shipping and quality customer service, sometimes hand-delivering smartphones in order to win a customer. This includes meeting a Torontonian in Brooklyn who was in town for an Arsenal match, only to share a beer after the game.

Of course, Explora isn’t for everyone. Many MobileSyrup readers have expressed security and privacy concerns over trusting a foreign device with their private data. For its part, Explora says that 50-60% of its customers wipe the phone prior to sending them back, and all devices are factory reset upon their return. Raj also told me that Explora does not share user data with any external parties. Users looking for expanded device selection shouldn’t hold their breath, however. Cost increases and logistical issues mean that Explora will remain a stock Android service for the foreseeable future.

But the company has obviously struck a chord with travellers looking for a hassle-free solution to remaining as connected as possible while in the U.S. Raj told me that this exactly the type of service Explora is looking to provide: “Connectivity is the electricity of the 21st century,” he said. “It enables all the technology we now use.”